Friday, April 6, 2012

A discussion of the Passive Voice

And now for a lurch back to the other half of my brain.  I happened to catch a suggestion on a writing group on Facebook for a well-meaning exercise that attempts to make the writer more cognizant of the "passive voice" by eliminating as many variants of the verb "to be" as possible.  In other words, the person who made this suggestion has confused the Voice of the verb with the Tense.

Anyone who has suffered through as much Latin as I have can tell you the difference, but hardly anyone is made to suffer through as much Latin as I was.

The Passive Voice is not a tense.  It has nothing to do with when in time the action occurred, nor does it express a state of being.  The Passive Voice is a statement about ACTION and it tells you that the subject of the sentence was the object acted upon.  The opposite of the Passive Voice is the Active Voice, and the Active Voice tells you that the subject of the sentence is the one doing the action.

For example, these sentences are all ACTIVE voice:

I put the book on the table.
I am driving the car.
Jill followed Jack.

These sentences are all PASSIVE:

The book was put on the table by me.
The car is driven by me.
Jack was followed by Jill.

In each sentence, its not the compound verb structure that tips you off to the fact its passive voice; its the clause "by me" or "by Jill" that tells you who the actor of the sentence is.   All of the above sentences are in the PAST tense.

Here are a few more examples in ACTIVE Voice... but different tense:

The dog bit the cat. (Past tense, Active Voice)
The cat will bite the rat. (Future tense, Active Voice)
The rat has been looking for the cheese.  (Past Perfect Tense, Active Voice)

And again in PASSIVE voice, keeping the same tenses.

The cat was bitten by the dog.  (Past Tense/Passive Voice.)
The rat will be bitten by the cat. (Future Tense/Passive Voice.)
The cheese has been looked for by the rat.  (Past Perfect/Passive Voice.)

Now you try it.

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