Writing Multiple-Choice Questions
Active Voice and Passive Voice
Voice is a feature of verbs that shows whether the subject of a sentence is doing the action or having the action done to it.
  • Passive Parliament was not informed.
  • Active The prime minister did not inform Parliament.
Note that the passive voice allows a writer or speaker to evade responsibility by hiding the identity of the person executing the action. “Gee, Parliament just wasn’t informed. Isn’t that unfortunate? What’s next on the agenda?” The active version of the sentence names names and ascribes actions to a real, live person.
For that reason, the passive voice is most widely used in politics, the business world, or in any other activity involving a bureaucracy. Educators and stylists have been pushing for wider use of the active voice. The SAT reflects this trend. As you may have heard your English teacher say, verb your way through your writing. Use active, focused, forceful verbs, not the same weak passive verbs over and over again.
The active voice usually requires far fewer words than the passive voice to convey the same idea:
  • Passive The ball was thrown by the man to his son. (10 words)
  • Active The man threw the ball to his son. (8 words)
  • Passive The investigation of the war crimes alleged to have been committed by the occupying forces was carried out by an international agency. (22 words)
  • Active An international agency led the investigation of the occupying forces’ alleged war crimes. (13 words)
Notice in both examples how we replaced a form of to be with a more active verb:

First example: was replaced by threw

Second example: was replaced by led

If you see a sentence that contains a form of to be, be on the lookout for an unnecessary passive construction.
Concision is the hallmark of good writing; the active voice is far leaner than the bloated passive voice. Paragraph Improvement sets often include passive constructions that need revision.
Help | Feedback | Make a request | Report an error