Voice of Verbs
Voice of verbs refers to the relation of the subject to the action expressed by the verb. A verb is in the active voice when its subject is the doer or actor of the action. A verb is in the passive voice when its subject is acted upon.
- Active voice
- I sang the song. (The subject I did the act of singing).
- He hit the ball. (The subject he did the act of hitting).
- New York has inspired musicians and artists for decades. (The subject New York acts upon the musicians and artists).
- Passive voice
- The song was sung by me. (The subject song was acted upon by me).
- The ball was hit by him. (The subject ball was acted upon by him).
- Musicians and artists have been inspired by New York for decades. (The compound subject of musicians and artists have been acted upon by New York).
Passive verbs are formed by combining a past participle with a form of the verb be. Passive verbs are less concise and often more confusing than active verbs.
Actors or doers of an action are more important than the recipient of an action. Sentences become more concise, forceful and dynamic in the active voice. One's writing flows more smoothly when using active voice.
When is it appropriate to use passive verbs?
Often scientific and technical writing rely on use of the passive voice since the experiment or results and not the experimenter is important.
- An ice cube was added to the solution, and the test tube was heated. The ice cube melting was observed as the only reaction.
A passive verb is often necessary when the doer of an action in a sentence is unknown.
- My car was vandalized last night. (The doer of the vandalism is unknown).
Sentences should be consistent in voice, person, number, mood and tense.
- Shifting in sentence structure from active to passive voice often leads to confusion. In a compound or complex sentence, if the first clause is in the active voice, the second clause should not be in the passive voice unless there is a good reason for the change.
- A sentence beginning in the present tense should not switch to the past tense halfway through. Avoid illogical shifts in verb tenses within a sentence.
- A sentence that begins with the first person I point of view should not shift to the second person you.