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Passive voice

Active voice:
Laura invited Nancy to a party this Saturday night at 8:00.
Robins eat huge amounts of earth worms every spring.
Farmers predominantly raise corn and hogs in Iowa.
Scholars have translated that book into sixteen different languages.
Passive voice:
Nancy was invited to a party this Saturday night at 8:00.
Huge amounts of earth worms are eaten every spring by robins.
Predominantly, corn and hogs are raised in Iowa.
This book has been translated into sixteen different languages.

Usually, good writing uses the active voice and shuns the passive. However,
sometimes the active voice is awkward or inappropriate. We use the passive voice
frequently in speaking and writing--quite appropriately.

The first sentence, above, about the party, is a good example of this. The active voice
sentence focuses on Laura, the person who did the inviting. The passive voice
sentence focuses on Nancy, a potential party attendee. Deciding which sentence is
best depends on your focus--what you wish to stress. When considering the last
example sentence (the one about the book translation), the passive voice version
actually sounds much better because we wish to focus on the book (which received the
action of translation) not on the agent or person who performed the action.

As a general rule, however, the active voice is shorter, more direct, and more dynamic
than the passive voice.

Reasons to use the passive voice:


 The agent (or doer) of the action is unimportant
 The agent is unknown
 The agent is common knowledge, and it is redundant to mention it

Examples:
The agent is common knowledge:
George Washington was elected in 1789. After serving two terms, he decided not to
run again. A custom was established at that time to serve for no longer than two
terms. It was not until President Roosevelt was elected to his third and fourth terms
that this custom was changed.

The agent is unimportant:


Mount Vernon was built not far from Washington, DC on the Potomac River.
Historians do not know exactly when the house was constructed; however, we do know
that it was owned by many generations of the Washington family before George lived
there. Many sections were planned and added when the first president lived there.

The agent is unknown:


Most of our coins are minted in Philadelphia, but some are minted in Denver. Many
minerals are used to make coins: copper, zinc, and silver. Pennies are made mostly of
copper. Gold isn't used in coins any more, and dimes and quarters have no silver.

Forming the passive:


Sometimes, although the main focus is on the recipient of the action, it is also
important to mention the "doer" of the action. In this case, we use a by phrase to
indicate who or what performed the action:
The earth worms are eaten by robins.
The contract was signed by everyone.
The bells are being rung every hour by our staff members.

PASSIVE PRACTICE:
Put the following sentences in the passive voice:

1. Children cannot open these bottles easily.


2. The government built a road right outside her front door.
3. The new statue stands in a shady section of the park.
4. When she arrived, the changes amazed her.
5. The construction workers are making street repairs all month long.
6. The party will celebrate his retirement.
7. His professors were discussing his oral exam right in front of him.
8. The snake has replaced its skin many times.
9. Corrosion had damaged the hull of the ship.
10. Some children were visiting the old homestead while I was there.

Put the following sentences in the active voice:

11. The statue is being visited by hundreds of tourists every year.


12. My books were stolen by someone yesterday.
13. These books had been left in the classroom by a careless student.
14. Coffee is raised in many parts of Hawaii by plantation workers..
15. Their home had been broken into by someone while they were on vacation .
16. A woman was being carried downstairs by a very strong firefighter.
17. The streets around the fire had been blocked off by the police.
18. Have you seen the new movie that was directed by Ron Howard?
19. My car is in the garage being fixed by a dubious mechanic.
20. A great deal of our oil will have been exported to other countries by our
government.
KEY
Answers
Put the following sentences in the passive voice:

1. These bottles cannot be opened by children easily.


2. A road was built right outside her front door by the government. Or...A road was
built right outside her front door.
3. (Cannot be passive as this sentence contains an intransitive verb)
4. When she arrived, she was amazed by the changes.
5. Street repairs are being made by construction workers all month long. Or...Street
repairs are being made all month long.
6. His retirement will be celebrated by the party.
7. His oral exam was being discussed by his professors right in front of him.
8. Its skin has been replaced many times.
9. The hull of the ship has been damaged by corrosion.
10. While I was there, the old homestead was being visited by some children.

Put the following sentences in the active voice:

11. Hundreds of tourists visit the statue every year.


12. Someone stole my books yesterday.
13. A careless student left these books in the classroom
14. Plantation workers raise coffee in many parts of Hawaii.
15. Someone broke into their home while they were on vacation.
16. A very strong firefighter was carrying a woman downstairs.
17. The police blocked off the streets around the fire.
18. Have you seen the new movie that Ron Howard directed?
19. A dubious mechanic is fixing my car in the garage.
20. Our government will have exported a great deal of our oil.