Doyle Online Writing Lab

The Passive Voice (and How to Avoid It)

by Professor Jay Dickson

A verb is in the active voice when it expresses an action the subject performs. A verb is in the passive voice when it expresses something that happens to the subject. It is often hard to tell who is performing the action when a sentence is in the passive voice, making the entire sentence vague and confusing

Passive voice: The ball was thrown into the air.
Active voice: The boy threw the ball into the ai.

There are times when passive verbs do perform useful functions, such as when they describe the state of something (e. g., "The party was finished," "The books were balanced"), but usually they tend to make sentences imprecise and awkward.

Practice Sentences

Put these sentences into the active voice.

1. The casserole was improved by the chef with a special ingredient.

2. The paper for the course was written after the assignment had been explained.

3. The bill was passed by the Senate after its fine points had been debated.

4. Kuwait was surrendered at the close of the Gulf War.

5. The character of Hector in the Iliad is depicted as selfish.