Writing Pitfalls: Passive Voice
In a sentence that uses passive voice, the sentence’s subject does not perform the action. Instead, the action of the sentence happens to the subject.
For example, the sentence “The ball was thrown by the girl” is written in passive voice. If you see a sentence and you’re unsure of whether or not it is written in passive voice, ask yourself the following questions:
1.Who is doing the action?
2.Is the actor/doer in the subject or predicate?
3. Can the subject perform an action?
4. Does your verb phrase include a conjugation of “to be” (am, are, is, was, were, being, been, etc.) and the past participle (usually ends in -n)?
5. Does the predicate include a “by” phrase with the actor/doer of the action?
Not all passive voice sentences have each of these five qualities, but if you answer in the affirmative for one or more, you likely have passive voice.
Let’s analyze our sentence, “The ball was thrown by the girl”.
1. The girl is doing the action, but…
2. The girl is in the predicate of the sentence, not the subject
3. The subject, ball, can’t perform an action
4. The verb in the sentence is “was” which is a conjugation of “to be” and has a past participle “thrown”.
5. The predicate has a “by” phrase “by the girl”
Now, let’s revise. Make the actor in the sentence the subject of the sentence. Change your “to be” verb to an action verb with an object.
The girl threw the ball.
Now you have a sentence with active voice. It’s best to write using action verbs because it helps your professor clarify your meaning, it’s less wordy, and is more professional sounding.
There are some exceptions for passive voice in specific genres. Scientific journals, for example, favor passive voice. For the majority of papers written in class, however, passive voice is not preferred.