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.
Parliament was not informed.
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
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:
The ball was thrown by the man to his son.
The man threw the ball to his son.
The investigation of the war crimes alleged
to have been committed by the occupying forces was carried out by
an international agency. (22 words)
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
First example: was replaced
Second example: was replaced
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.