Active vs Passive Voice ›› Examples ›› How to Change Passive to Active voice

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active vs passive voice

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to use more active voice. Instead of saying, “The test was failed by most students,” it is better to say, “Most students failed the test.”

The first sentence is passive voice, and it is more confusing to understand. Active voice makes sentences clearer and usually shorter, so you can get your point across more easily.


How to Recognize Active vs Passive Voice

1. Look at the Location of the Subject

In most sentences, you can check for active voice by looking at the subject of the verb, or the noun that performs the action. Every sentence has an action; who is doing that action? If the first noun in the sentence does the action, the sentence is usually active.

Take this example:

The teacher turns on the lights.

In this example, the first noun is “teacher”. The verb, or action, is “turns on”. Because the teacher is the one who turns on something, this sentence uses active voice.

Take another example:

The lights are turned on by the teacher.

In this example, the verb is still “turn on”. However, the teacher does the action, and she is the second noun of the sentence. Thus, this sentence is passive voice.

2. Look for To Be Verbs + By

Most passive sentences follow a similar structure. Instead of being able to use a variety of verb tenses and structures, they almost always use to be + by. To be verbs include be, being, been, am, is, are, was, and were.

Let’s look at the previous example with the lights and the teacher again.

The lights are turned on by the teacher.

Here, the “to be” verb is “are”, and the sentence has “by” before the subject of the verb. This is another way to identify passive voice.

Other examples of sentences like this are:

  • She was led by his children through the store.
  • The airplane was piloted by two co-pilots.

3. Look for To Be Verbs

However, some sentences are passive even if they do not have the word “by” in them.

Look at this version of the sentence above.

The lights are turned on.

Even though there is no “by”, this sentence is passive. This goes back to the first principle of this post, because the lights are not performing the action in this sentence.

Instead, there is some unnamed person or thing that is doing the action. In this case, the lights are still the object of the verb, so this sentence is passive.

Another example is this:

The computer was damaged.

This sentence does not contain the subject, or the person that damaged the computer, but it is clear that the computer did not act.

This is the trickiest step to recognize whether a sentence is active or passive, though, because to be verbs are used in many different situations.


More Examples of Passive and Active voice

The following sentences are active voice, even though they have “to be” verbs:

  • I am going to the park.
  • The committee is considering your proposal, but it doesn’t look promising.
  • Robert was eating at the restaurant last night.

In each of these cases, the verbs described actions that the subjects were taking. These “to be” verbs could be easily replaced without changing the meaning of the sentence. For example:

  • I go to the park.
  • The committee considers your proposal.
  • Robert ate at the restaurant last night.

In these cases, this means that the sentence is active. If you can use a different verb tense without changing the meaning, the sentence is active.

By contrast, you cannot change the verbs here without changing what the sentence means:

The video is being filmed by Jessica.

Trying to change this sentence to “The video is filming Jessica” or “The video films Jessica” changes the meaning of the sentence.

When you try to change this sentence, the video becomes the subject, which is opposite of the original meaning of the sentence.


How to Change Passive to Active voice

The ultimate question is how you can change passive to active voice once you have recognized it! In most cases, rearranging the sentence does the trick.

The video is being filmed by Jessica.

Can become

Jessica films the video.

If your passive sentence doesn’t have a subject, you may need to add in that information.

The video is being filmed.

Needs additional information (specifically, the videographer) to be changed to active voice.


More for you:
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2 comments

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1

Students are to be taught by him.
Active of this sentence

2

Maybe: he is to teach students.
Is that correct? =)