Voice - Lesson and Interactive Exercises

Active and Passive Voice

The first step is to help people understand the difference between active and passive voice, because many people believe they should avoid the passive voice, but fewer people can define it or recognize it.

What Is Active Voice?

In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. A straightforward example is the sentence "Ram loves Sita." Ram is the subject, and he is doing the action: he loves Sita, the object of the sentence.

Another example  “I Heard It through the Grapevine.” "I" is the subject, the one who is doing the action. "I" is hearing "it," the object of the sentence.

What Is Passive Voice?

In passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position. Instead of saying, "Ram loves Sita," I would say, "Sita is loved by Ram." The subject of the sentence becomes Sita, but she isn't doing anything. Rather, she is just the recipient of Ram's love. The focus of the sentence has changed from Ram to Sita.

Is "To Be" a Sign of a Passive Sentence?

A lot of people think all sentences that contain a form of the verb “to be” are in passive voice, but that isn't true. For example, the sentence "I am holding a pen" is in active voice, but it uses the verb “am,” which is a form of “to be.” The passive form of that sentence is "The pen is being held by me."

Notice that the subject, the pen, isn't doing anything in that sentence. It's not taking an action; it's passive. One clue that your sentence is passive is that the subject isn't taking a direct action.

When you put sentences in passive voice, it's easy to leave out the person or thing doing the action. For example, "Sita is loved," is passive. The problem with that sentence is that you don't know who loves Sita.

It would make more sense to write, "The cookies were stolen," instead of "Somebody stole the cookies." The difference is subtle, but in the passive sentence “The cookies were stolen,” the focus is on the cookies. In “Somebody stole the cookies,” the focus would be on the unknown somebody.

Test your understanding of active and passive verb forms with this interactive grammar exercise.

1. His command was promptly obeyed.
2. That portrait was painted by my grandmother.
3. They have been invited to the party.
4. You will be told when the time comes.
5. Everybody agrees with me.
6. I was very interested in the lesson.
7. The dog bit the man.
8. He made a very remarkable discovery.
9. The accused was bound to a tree.
10. She won / has won the first prize in the competition.
11. The ocean cannot be pumped dry.
12. I was told to leave the room.

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