Monday, 7 February 2011

The Passive Voice


Active voice
In most English sentences with an action verb, the subject performs the action denoted by the verb.
    These examples show that the subject is  doing the verb's action.
Because the subject does or "acts upon" the verb in such sentences, the sentences are said to be in the active voice.

Passive voice
One can change the normal word order of many active sentences (those with a direct object) so that the subject is no longer active, but is, instead, being acted upon by the verb - or passive.
    Note in these examples how the subject-verb relationship has changed.
Because the subject is being "acted upon" (or is passive), such sentences are said to be in the passive voice.
NOTE:   Colorful parrots live in the rain forests cannot be changed to passive voice because the sentence does not have a direct object.
To change a sentence from active to passive voice, do the following:
    1.  Move  the active sentence's direct object into the sentence's subject  slot
    2. Place the active sentence's subject into a  phrase beginning with the preposition by
    3.  Add a form of the auxiliary verb be to the main verb and change the  main verb's form
Because passive voice sentences necessarily add words and change the normal doer-action-receiver of action direction, they may make the reader work harder to understand the intended meaning.
As the examples below illustrate, a sentence in  active voice  flows more smoothly and is easier to understand than the same sentence in  passive voice.
It is generally preferable to use the ACTIVE voice.

To change a passive voice sentence into an active voice sentence, simply reverse the steps shown above.
    1.  Move  the passive sentence's subject into the active  sentence's  direct object slot
    2.  Remove  the auxiliary verb be from the main verb and change main verb's form if needed
    3. Place the passive sentence's object of the preposition by into the subject slot.
Because it is more direct, most writers prefer to use the active voice whenever possible.
The passive voice may be a better choice, however, when
  • the doer of the action is unknown, unwanted, or unneeded in the sentence
  • the writer wishes to emphasize the action of the sentence rather than the doer of the action

Passive Verb Formation

The passive forms of a verb are created by combining a form of the "to be verb" with the past participle of the main verb. Other helping verbs are also sometimes present: "The measure could have been killed in committee." The passive can be used, also, in various tenses. Let's take a look at the passive forms of "design."
Present The car/cars is are designed.
Present perfectThe car/cars has been have been designed.
Past The car/cars was were designed.
Past perfect The car/cars had been had been designed.
Future The car/cars will be will be designed.
Future perfect The car/cars will have been will have been designed.
Present progressive The car/cars is being are being designed.
Past progressive The car/cars was being were being designed.
A sentence cast in the passive voice will not always include an agent of the action. For instance if a gorilla crushes a tin can, we could say "The tin can was crushed by the gorilla." But a perfectly good sentence would leave out the gorilla: "The tin can was crushed." Also, when an active sentence with an indirect object is recast in the passive, the indirect object can take on the role of subject in the passive sentence:

ActiveProfessor Villa gave Jorge an A.
PassiveAn A was given to Jorge by Professor Villa.
PassiveJorge was given an A.
Only transitive verbs (those that take objects) can be transformed into passive constructions. Furthermore, active sentences containing certain verbs cannot be transformed into passive structures. To have is the most important of these verbs. We can say "He has a new car," but we cannot say "A new car is had by him." We can say "Josefina lacked finesse," but we cannot say "Finesse was lacked." Here is a brief list of such verbs*:
resemble look like equal agree with
mean contain hold comprise
lack suit fit become

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