HOMEWORK: Passive vs. Active voice

Hello everyone,

I have given you an assignment. (If you miss class, of course.) Please download the pdf and try it at home. Also, I have pasted it below.

Passive voice worksheet

Writer’s Cramp                

August 12, 2010               

Passive Voice vs. Active Voice

Before we go into the details, let’s review the grammatical constructs subjectand object.

  • Subject=doer, the person/place/thing (noun) who is doing the action
  • Object=receiver, the person/place/thing (noun) who receives the action

I read the book.

I=subject                           read=verb (in active form)                            the book=object

In this sentence the verb is active because the subject is present and accounted for and in the place to do the action indicated.

                The book was read.

This is a passive voice construction in which the reader, or subject, is absent. Because it’s missing, the object (the book being read) becomes the de facto subject. Confused? Try not to be. Here the reading is happening to the book, but it’s impossible to tell by whom.

Because it can be so vague, most writers avoid passive voice and most style guides advise against it.  However, passive voice and active voice each have their place in the world, but here are few specific reasons to use them.

Passive voice is acceptable in certain cases. Use passive voice to:

  • Emphasize the object of a sentence, meaning whomever is being done to.

The cockroaches were eliminated.

Notes: The cockroaches take center stage in this sentence, and that’s fine if you want to really drive home the point that they are now dead.

  • When you don’t know who did it.

The police were called to the scene.

Notes: It’s not known who actually dialed the phone and caused the police to arrive. That said, a better way to say this might be

                The police arrived at the scene.

  • Deflect culpability. Consider the famous Reagan quote:

Mistakes were made.

Notes: Reagan was definitely not going to admit fault, but he acknowledged something wrong occurred. Journalists and politicians and bosses use this format a lot to avoid directly taking blame.

  • Add distance between the writer and the topic.

The mice were observed sleeping after the injection was administered.

Notes: Scientists use this tactic to keep the focal point of the writing on the subject of study, and to keep themselves as actors in the experiment out of the picture.

  • Soften the blow and/or be nice(r).

The company was forced to lay off half its staff.

Notes: The passive voice here leads the reader slowly into the point of the message—people lost their jobs—by easing into it with a blame deflecting passive verb. The company laid off half its staff would be more jarring to read, though no less true.

Use active voice whenever possible. Active voice verb constructions:

  • Eliminate wordiness and length. As Strunk and White put it, when a sentence “ is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter. Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor” (p. 19). Consider:

The mice were observed sleeping after the injection was administered.

Transformed to

After the injection, the mice slept.


  • Add power to your statements and clarity to your images.

Police cars screamed onto the scene.

Notes: the verb screamed is used as an active and descriptive verb. With a sentence like this, who cares who actually dialed the phone!

  • Exude confidence. Consider the following transformation:

The reports were finished well before the deadline.


I finished the reports well before the deadline.

Notes: Now your boss knows whom to thank—you. You are not just taking credit, you are taking responsibility, and that shows confidence in your work and yourself. The verb and the clear subject (I) put emphasis on the doer, not the deed. Take credit!

  • Add clarity.

The book was read aloud.

Who is reading the book? And why aloud? What is the situation here? It’s very hard to see. Try:

My teacher read the book aloud.

                Notes: Now there is no doubt about who is doing what and why. Ah, clarity.

Active verbs will transform your writing once you get used to using them. At first, you might feel unnatural taking so much credit, but soon you will see how clear, strong, and undeniably vigorous all your writing becomes. Try it. It will help. I promise.



Passive voice and active verbs worksheet


Read each sentence below. Does it use passive voice? Mark Yes or No.

1)      The house was broken into last night.                                                                    Y   N

2)      The sun was shining.                                                                                                      Y   N

3)      Sally was scared she wouldn’t make the team.                                                   Y   N

4)      The forest path was dark and winding.                                                                   Y   N

5)      The glass was shattered by the earthquake.                                                        Y   N

6)      The tree was cut down.                                                                                                  Y   N

Regardless of whether or not these sentences used passive voice, they were all lame.

Recast each sentence using a descriptive or specific active verb. Go ahead and make up other details. Creativity counts.

1)      _________________________________________________________________________

2)      _________________________________________________________________________

3)      _________________________________________________________________________

4)      _________________________________________________________________________

5)      _________________________________________________________________________

6)      _________________________________________________________________________

Practice writing a few lame sentences of your own. Use the passive voice verb construction.

1)      __________________________________________________________________________

2)      __________________________________________________________________________

3)      __________________________________________________________________________

4)      __________________________________________________________________________

Now transform your weak sentences into powerful active-verb sentences. Go!

1)      __________________________________________________________________________

2)      __________________________________________________________________________

3)      __________________________________________________________________________

4)      __________________________________________________________________________


About Taylor

Teacher/Writer/Word Nerd View all posts by Taylor

3 responses to “HOMEWORK: Passive vs. Active voice

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