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Once again, I clicked the “Publish” button only to discover more underlined phrases indicated as PASSIVE VOICE. What the heck! It’s VERY annoying!

What is PASSIVE VOICE? It’s a hard thing to define because there is no ALWAYS. Many times, the use of “have” or “be” indicates a passive voice, but not always. It comes down to who or what is going on in the sentence … and by whom or what!

Consider the following examples:

    The ball was caught by the dog.

What, if anything, is the action? If there is action, what is at the beginning of the sentence? Is it the person or thing performing the action? In the sentence above, yes, there is action: a ball is being caught. At the beginning of the sentence, is the OBJECT of the action, rather than the performer of the action. The sentence also contains a form of the verb “to be” (was) and a past participle (caught). Therefore, this sentence is PASSIVE VOICE.

Try this one: The peony has been crushed by the rowdy dogs next to the tree.

    Action: yes
    Beginning, performer of action or recipient of action? Recipient (The dogs were not crushed, the peony was crushed.)
    “To be” verb: has been
    Past participle: crushed

One more: The rowdy dogs crushed the peony next to the tree.

    Action: yes
    Beginning, performer of action or recipient of action? Ah, performer of the action!
    “To be” verb: none
    Past participle: crushed
    Because the action is performed by the subject, and there is no use of “to be” verb, this is ACTIVE VOICE sentence.

Get it?

Try this one:

    When her room was ransacked, Samantha had to think of ways to avoid the subject with her boyfriend.

Action: yes
At the Beginning: recipient of action
“To be” verb: was
Past participle: ransacked

We can correct passive voice by simply re-ordering the words. This will change the voice from passive to active and clarify the meaning of the sentence.

    When the thief violated her room, Samantha had to think of ways to avoid the subject with her boyfriend.

PASSIVE VOICE is a common issue. It does not necessarily constitute a grammatical error, but rather, a stylistic problem.

    PASSIVE: The peony has been crushed by the rowdy dogs next to the tree.
    ACTIVE: The rowdy dogs crushed the peony next to the tree.

Notice the active voice sentence has more clarity. The meaning is easier to determine. English professors and writing instructors often require the complete elimination of passive voice from academic writing. I just want the proofreader to pass me through without underline!