Active Voice/Passive Voice

In order to understand the difference between “active voice” and “passive voice,” you must have a firm comprehension of grammar.

Within a sentence lies the 1) grammatical subject (i.e., person, place, thing, or idea), 2) information that tells us who and what the sentence is about, and a 3) verb in a specific tense that determines the action of the subject. The “verb” indicates the time in which an action took, takes, or will take place. It is usually in the past, present, or future.

When you can understand the many functions of the “verb,” then you will know how to correct a sentence presently in the passive voice and change it into a construction that reflects the subject of the sentence actually performing the action.

Below is a brief grammar lesson, based upon the instructions and definitions outlined in Paul Gary Phillips and Joyce B. Phillips’s Essentials of Tutoring: Helping College Students Develop Their Writing Skills. To safeguard against copyright infringement, we have changed the sentences and corresponding explanations.

Following this lesson is an example of how to correct a passive construction and how to convert the sentence into active voice.

A. Simple Tenses: Past, Present, Future

John went to the store.

John goes to the store.

John will go to the store.

B. Perfect Tenses: Past Perfect, Present Perfect, Future Perfect

John had jogged to the store.

John has jogged to the store.

John will have jogged to the store.

C. Progressive Tenses: Past Progressive, Present Progressive, Future Progressive

John was jogging to the store.

John is jogging to the store.

John will be jogging to the store.

D. Perfect Progressive Tenses: Past Perfect Progressive, Present Perfect Progressive, Future Perfect Progressive

John had been jogging.

John has been jogging.

John will have been jogging.

E. Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs are verbs that don’t end in –ed, but can take on past and participle verb forms.

John chose to jog.

John chooses to jog.

John will have chosen to jog.

F. Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

John jogged and ran into the wall. Transitive: the wall (object) receives action of the verb.

John jogs slowly. Intransitive: “jogs” is intransitive because the action is complete in and of itself; the sentence requires no object.

G. Verbals: Participles, Gerunds, Infinitives

Participles, gerunds, and infinitives do not function as verbs in a sentence; they do not indicate tense or when an action begins or ends. Instead, they function as nouns, adverbs, and adjectives, depending upon context.

The excited jogger ran into the wall.  This is a participle.

Although –ed is at the end of “excite,” this verb functions as an adjective, describing the noun “jogger.” The main verb of the sentence is “ran.”

John loves jogging. This is a gerund.

“Jogging” functions as a noun without needing a helping verb. The main verb is “loves.”

John wanted to jog on Monday. This is an infinitive.

The main verb is “wanted.” For example, the infinitive “to do” is not the same thing as the verb “doing.”

Verbals also include Finite and Nonfinite Verbs.

H. Finite Verbs

John jogged. (John decided to jog.)   The action is complete, or finished.

I. Nonfinite Verbs (participles, gerunds, infinitives)

Jogging three hours makes John tired.

Although we know how long John has been jogging, the sentence doesn’t indicate standard verb tense. The sentence doesn’t indicate when John started.

J. Helping Verbs

The following consist of standard helping verbs:

1) “do”

2) “have”

3) conjugated forms and tenses of the “be verb”: is, am, are; was, were

4) “modals”: might, may, must, should, could, would, will (shall), can

The sentences below illustrate the different ways a verb can function in a sentence with the same grammatical subject.

Fred cleans the store. Present tense action

Fred is cleaning the store. Present Participle with linking be verb “is”

Fred might clean the store. Helping Modal: “might”

Fred was cleaning the store. Linking be verb: “was”

Fred cleaned the store. Past tense action        

Fred will clean the store. Future tense action

K.  Definition of a Passive Construction

When a student writer creates a sentence that uses a form of the helping verb “to be,” or uses one of the modals with the past tense form of a main verb (-ed), then he or she constructs a sentence in the passive voice. When using passive voice, the grammatical subject receives the action, but doesn’t perform the action. Below is an example of a sentence in the passive voice, as well as its active voice counterpart:

1) The store was cleaned by Fred. Linking verb “was” in the form of a helper with the -ed form of a main verb

2) Fred cleaned the store.  Past tense action verb. Fred is performing the action.

Notice that the preposition “by” and the position of the subject are keys to understanding that the first sentence represents a passive construction.

In the first example, “store” is the subject of the sentence. It receives the action. However, in the second sentence, “Fred” is the subject of the sentence and “he” performs the action. He cleaned the store. A passive sentence is easily correctable once you understand who the subject of the sentence is and what you want him or her to do.

L. Tips for correcting your sentences

1) Remove the helping verb and the preposition.

2) Focus more on the subject of the sentence.

3) Determine what you want the subject to do.

4) Make your subject perform the action.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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