Students hear a lot about passive voice, but sometimes it takes them awhile to understand what makes a verb passive or active. To figure this out, students must concentrate on the subject and the verb of a sentence.
In active voice, the subject is performing the action (doing the verb). In the following sentences the verbs are in active voice.
Rob hit the baseball pretty hard.
John broke my favorite dish.
Laura took my beach towel.
Stephanie ate the entire pie.
Observe that the verb is in the passive voice in each sentence below. Notice that the subject is not acting; instead the subject is being acted upon.
The baseball was hit pretty hard.
My favorite dish was broken by John.
My beach towel was taken.
The entire pie was eaten by Stephanie.
Notice that the verbs in passive voice are preceded by “was,” which is a form of “be.” One way to recognize passive voice is to look for a form of “be” preceding the verb.
The pickle was eaten.
The pickle is eaten.
The pickle will be eaten.
The pickle has been eaten.
The pickle had been eaten.
The pickle will have been eaten.
The sentences above all make it very clear that a pickle is, was, or will be eaten—but we cannot tell from these sentences who is actually eating. The phrases leave us wondering a little, and that is why teachers don’t like to see too much passive voice in your writing.
Passive voice tends to be vague, while active voice is direct and clear.