Grammar

Active and Passive Voice

by VIDYANAND

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What is Voice in Grammar? 

Voice in grammar is a study of the relationship of the verb with its subject and object. 

  • When the subject of a sentence performs the action, the sentence has an active voice.
  • When the subject of the sentence merely receives the action, the sentence has a passive voice.

■  Example –

  • Chandu cut a tree.

The subject in this sentence is Chandu who performs the action of cutting a tree. Hence, the sentence is in the active voice.

  • A tree was cut by Chandu.

The subject in this sentence tree does not seem to perform the action. Instead, it seems to have received the action of ‘being cut’. Hence, the sentence is in the passive voice.

Active Voice

The active voice is widely used in English and is preferred over the passive voice. It is direct and concise in nature and it makes the sentences sound assertive. In the active voice, the subject or doer is in focus and not the object.

■  Example –

  • The people selected the representative.
  • Helen sang a song.
  • Krishna took a bus to the station.

In the above sentences, the words people, Helen and Krishna are in the focus; the words representative, song and bus are in the background. Hence, the active voice is used.

Passive Voice

The passive voice has a tendency to render the sentences weak, unlike the active voice. Although it is generally considered undesirable in writing, there are instances where the passive voice is desired.

■  Example –

  • The representative was selected by the people.
  • A song was sung by Helen.
  • A bus was taken by Krishna to the station.

In the above cases, the words representative, song and bus are highlighted and the words people, Helen and Krishna are not given importance. Hence, the sentences are in the passive voice.

Transforming a Sentence from the Active to the Passive

While transforming a sentence into the passive voice, the easiest way is to interchange the position of the subject and the object.

Active VoiceSubject –The catVerb – chasedObject – the rat
Passive VoiceSubject – The ratVerb – is chasedObject – by the cat.

Rules 

Historical instances sound better when expressed in the passive voice.

  • The kingdom was captured by the enemies.
  • The Declaration of Independence was signed on the 4th of July 1776.

■  In the case of compound and complex sentences, all the clauses in the sentence should be in the same form. 

Active voice / Passive voice

  • She drove the car home    and the garage door was opened by her. Incorrect

Active voice / Passive voice

  • She drove the car home and opened the garage door. Correct

■  When the doer of the action is important, use the active voice.

  • The Prime Minister spoke about the important issue. Gretel wrote a letter.

■  When the thing or person which gets affected by the action is important, use the passive voice.

  • The mangoes were picked from the orchard. Michael was called by the boss.

■  The passive voice is not possible when the verb used is intransitive. 

  • Krishna runs fast.
  • Fast was ran by Krishna. Incorrect

Changes in Tense

TenseActive VoicePassive Voice
Simple presentThe bees gather nectar. Nectar is gathered by the bees.
Present continuous Manish is writing a story.A story is being written by Manish.
Present perfectReema has gifted Sheena.Sheena has been gifted by Reema.
Present perfect continuousDad has been calling you.– 
Simple pastThe monkeys stole food.Food was stolen by the monkeys.
Past continuousGeeta was cleaning the house.The house was being cleaned by Geeta.
Past perfectChitra had finished the work.The work had been finished by Chitra.
Past perfect continuous Beena had been working.
Simple futureI will write a letter.A letter will be written by me.
Future continuousShe will be grating cheese.
Future perfect Dr Walsh will have discovered a cure.A cure will have been discovered by Dr Walsh.
Future perfect continuousMaria will have been cooking food.