Verb Voice

Unit One

What Are Verb Voices?

In English grammar, verbs have voice. The term Voice refers to the form of a verbOpens in new window that indicates whether the subjectOpens in new window is the doer of the action of the verb (active voiceOpens in new window) or the receiver of the action (passive voiceOpens in new window).

In alternative thought, voice is the position of the action verb relative to the subject and objectOpens in new window of the sentence.

Consider the following pair of sentences:
  1. Noah built the ark.
  2. The ark was built by Noah.

The sentences above both have the same meaning. But there exists some difference.

In the first sentence, the subject, Noah, built the ark. In other words, the subject, Noah, is the doer of the action.

However, in the second sentence, the subject, the ark, did not do the action; it received the action. Here the subject is the affected party or receiver of the action. In so doing, consists the following:

  • The object of the verb in sentence 1 has become the subject of the verb in sentence 2.
  • The verb in 1 is said to be in the active voice, while that in sentence 2 is said to be in the passive voice. i.e., built is in the active voice and was built in the passive voice.

Now, we can go ahead to define both terms:

What is an Active Voice?

Active voice refers to the form of a verb in which its subject is the person or thing that does the action. In an active voice sentence, the subject acts on the object.

The active voice emphasizes the actor (the doer of the action). We can also say that active voice is the direct writing, which means the subject performs the action of the verb.

Now, we take further study of the sentence 1:

1.  Noah built the ark

  • Subject = Noah
  • Verb = built
  • Object = ark
Other Examples of Active Voice include:
  • The teacher praises him.
  • She posted the letter.
  • I buy new books.
  • We will celebrate his birthday.
  • They proposed changes to the social system.

What is a Passive Voice?

Passive voice refers to the form of a verb in which its subject is affected by the action of the verb.

In alternative thought, the passive is the form of a verb in which the subject of the sentence has an action done to it by someone or something else.

Again, we take further study of the sentence 2:

2.  The ark was built by Noah.

  • Subject = ark
  • Verb = was built
  • Object = Noah
Now the Passive Voice versions of the Active Voices shared earlier:
  • He is praised by the teacher.
  • The letter was posted by her.
  • New books are bought by me.
  • His birthday will be celebrated by us.
  • Changes have been proposed to the social system by them.

Basically, in the passive voice, the subject is acted upon. Emphasis is made on the receiver of the action. The passive voice is the indirect writing style, which means the subject receives the action of the verb. Hence, we use the passive voice to make the object of the active voice more important.

We put the object of the active voice at the beginning of the passive voice because we want to talk about, for example, the ark, not about Noah, as in the examples above.

Now, consider the sentence below:
  • My friend’s son was run over by a car.

This sentence is in the passive voice because the speaker is much more concerned about his friend’s son than he is about the car.

The following changes are made when the active voice is turned into the passive:
  • The object of the active voice becomes the subject of the passive voice.
  • The passive form of the verb is made by adding verb form of be (is, was, has been, etc.) to the past participle.
  • The passive verb is followed by by + doer.

Optionally, we can leave out by + doer if we do not know the doer or if it is not necessary to mention the doer. As in the following:

Active Passive
Someone stole the watch. The watch was stolen.
The police arrested the thief. The thief was arrested.

In the first sentence we do not know who stole the watch. In the second, however, we need not mention the doer; we know that the police arrested the thief. So we deliberately left out by + doer.

    See next pages.
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