Active & Passive Voice I

Akanksha Tripathi and Dr. Monal Desai

This handout informs you about the linguistic rules of Active and Passive Voice in academic writing.  

What is grammatical voice?  

In non-specialist’s language, voice informs whether the subject is executing the action or receiving it. 

 What are the important terms used in Active and Passive Voice?  

 Doer: One who acts. 

 Action: The task/work performed.  

 Receiver: On whom the work/task is performed.  

Example:  

I misplaced the ATM card.  

‘I’ is the doer of the action  

‘misplaced’ is the action  

‘ATM card’ is the receiver of the act of the doer in the sense that the doer misplaced it.  

What are the types of voices? How do they work in English language?  

According to the action performed, there are two types of voices, Active and Passive Voice in English language.  

In Active Voice, the doer of the action is prominent, as s/he actively performs the work/task.  

Let us understand this with an example:  

  • Newton propounded the Law of Gravitational Force. 

Analysis:  

If we ask a question to find out who the doer of the action is, the answer we get is Newton.  

Newton, the doer of the action (propounded) forms the subject of the sentence. The action received is Law of Gravitational Force. That is the object of the sentence.  

  • Ponsonnet et al. observed the effect of roughness on the growth of fibroblast for Titanium (Ni-Ti) shape memory alloy. 

Analysis: In this sentence, authors Ponsonnet et al. (doer of the action) observed(action) the effect of roughness on the growth of fibroblast for Titanium (Ni-Ti) shape memory alloy. (receiver of the action).  

In Passive Voice, the receiver of the action gets the prominence and forms the subject of the sentence. The doer of the action is relegated to form the object of the sentence. As the subject is not performing but receiving the action and is passive, this type of sentence is said to be in Passive voice.  

To understand this, let us go through an example:  

  • The Law of Gravitational Force was propounded by Newton. 

Analysis:  

The Law of Gravitational Force(Receiver) was propounded by Newton(Doer).  

In the above sentence, doer of the action(Newton) is relegated to form the object of the sentence and receiver of the action(The Law of Gravitational Force) forms the subject.  

  • The effect of roughness on the growth of fibroblast for Titanium (Ni-Ti) shape memory alloy was observed by Ponsonnet et al. 

Analysis: In this sentence authors, Ponsonnet et al. (doer of the action) form the object of the sentence and the effect of roughness on the growth of fibroblast for Titanium (Ni-Ti) shape memory alloy forms the subject. (Receiver of the action the effect of…memory alloy).  

What are the rules in forming active and passive voice?  

Active Voice:  

Subject+Verb+Object 

 

S          V                              O

I      submitted            the dissertation 

 

Passive Voice: 

Subject+be form of the verb+main verb in the third form (past participle)+by+object 

 

S                                 be+       3rd form               O 

The dissertation         was      submitted       by me. 

 OR 

The dissertation was submitted.  

In the latter sentence ‘by me’ is omitted because it is understood that ‘I’ would submit my own dissertation.  

In the above case, the rule says when the object is implied, one can skip the object, if it is not important.  

My purse was picked.  

In the above sentence, it is implied that someone or a pickpocket has picked the purse.  

 
Quickies: We skip the object in the passive voice when it ends with someone, somebody, everyone, people, or pronouns like- him, us, them, and so on.

 

 What is  ‘be form of verbs’?  

They are: is, am, are, was, were, be, been, being. 

 

 
Tenses The Main verb (Active) Be Form of Verb (Passive)
Simple Present Tense submit is/am/are submitted
Present Continuous is/am/are submitting is being submitted
Present Perfect has/have submitted has/have been submitted
Present perfect Continuous have been submitting No change
Simple Past Tense submitted was/were submitted
Past Continuous was/were submitting was being submitted
Past Perfect had submitted had been submitted
Past Perfect Continuous had been submitting No change
Simple Future Tense will/shall submit will/shall be submitted
Future Continuous will be submitted will have submitted
Future Perfect will have submitted will have been submitted
Future Perfect Continuous Will have submitting No change

How to recognise passive sentence?  

If a sentence contains be form of the verb with the main verb in the third form, it is understood that the sentence is in passive voice.  

  • I submit the thesis. (be form of the verb is not here, so it is active voice) 

The thesis is submitted. (‘is’ is used with the third form of the verb ‘submitted’)  

  • I submitted the thesis. (be form of the verb is not here, so it is active voice) 

The thesis was submitted. (‘was’ is used with the third form of the verb)  

  • They submit their theses. 

Their theses are submitted 

  • They submitted their theses. 

Their theses were submitted 

  • I am submitting the thesis. 

The thesis is being submitted 

  • Ritu has submitted the thesis. 

The thesis has been submitted by Ritu.  

  • They had submitted their thesis. 

Their theses had been submitted 

  • They will submit their theses. 

Their theses will be submitted 

Sometimes the writer finds it difficult to convert Passive into Active Voice, one of the reasons for this is that an object is missing in the sentence. In this case, provide the subject as per need and transpose the subject at the object’s place.  

  • The Journal was peer-reviewed. (Passive Voice)
  • The reviewers peer-reviewed the Journal. ( Active Voice, in this case, ‘the reviewers’ is provided as the subject and ‘Jornal’ has been transposed at the object’s place.)