We have two voices
of the English language: active and passive. In an
active voice construction, we have a subject (an
agent or actor) performing an action (this clause is
active); in a passive voice construction, the subject
is acted upon (this clause is passive).
constructions usually obscure the subject, thus
making the sentences loose, indirect, and wordy.
Active: John hit the ball into left
Passive: The ball was hit by John into left field.
Clearly, the subject
John (the actor/agent) performs an action; he hits
the ball (the direct object). In the passive voice,
the direct object, ball, becomes the subject of the
sentence; the ball is being acted upon (hit) by John.
How can you
recognize passive voice construction? The passive
construction usually has an obvious to be verb form (am,
is, was, were, been, being, etc.) plus a past
participle; these verbs are frequently followed by
the preposition by. Notice the example of passive
voice in the preceding sentence. In active voice, the
sentence would read:
More times than not,
the preposition by follows the past participle.
Notice, too, that
the sentence mixes construction to illustrate that
you should avoid mixing passive and active voice
constructions in the same sentence. If you think in
terms of what or who is doing the action and use the
result as your subject (agent/actor), constructing
active voice will become as natural as breathing.
of Active Voice:
of Passive Voice:
will not ban handguns.
will not be banned by legislation.
legislature chastised Smith for her stand on
chastised by the legislature for her stand on
is evoking effective imagery in the novel.
evoked in the novel effectively.
telephoned the police immediately.
were telephoned immediately by victim.
is passive voice useful? When you deliberately want
to obscure the subject (the actor or agent). Pretend
for a moment that you break a family heirloom.
Passive voice allows you to offer the following
explanation to its owner: Your
favorite rose vase was broken last night.
Or, to take another
rhetorically popular defense, we might hear "mistakes
were made" from some politicians. Unless you can
defend the use of passive voice, however, use active
You can use a
variety of useful words to introduce quotations; they
will help you to avoid repetitive constructions such
as "Newman says" (or "states"),
"This shows that," or, worse still, "This
can be seen in." More than variety, the
following verbs provide exactness of thought!
Always offer a rationale for your
inclusion of a quotation, either before or after its
use. In other words, do not "drop in" like
an unwelcome guest a quotation for no apparent
relevance to the point you're making. The following
brief quotations, not all of which are fully
introduced, illustrate the variety of introductory
methods that can elevate your presentation of