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Avoid Passive Voice Verbs


Good writers avoid the passive voice.  What is a passive voice verb?  First, let's talk about what it isn't. Typically, the subject in a sentence performs the action described by the action verb.  When this happens, the verb is an active voice verb.  Active voice verbs make writing much livelier.   Active voice verbs often have direct objects, but they don't have to have one.  As long as the subject is doing what the verb says, the verb is in the active voice. 

On the other hand, passive voice verbs actually have the action happening to the subject, and this makes the writing seem dull and awkward.  No passive voice verb can have a direct object.

Examples:

Johnny hit the ball. 

Hit is an active voice verb because the subject Johnny is doing the action of the verb. 

The ball was hit by Johnny. 

The subject ball is not doing the action of the verb phrase was hit.  The ball isn't hitting anything.  The noun that actually did the hitting is buried in a prepositional phrase where you can't have a subject.  Consequently, this sentence's verb phrase is in the passive voice.  Another consequence is an awkward and backward sentence. To redirect the action toward the subject, passive voice verbs require verb phrases--a main verb and at least one helper--but active voice verbs can also be verb phrases, so that's not a sure sign.

On the ACT, always choice the active voice option.


Why does the passive voice exist if it's wrong all the time?  For all the "rules" of grammar, exceptions exist.  Thankfully, the ACT does not test you over the exceptions. Here they are just so you know:

When not answering an ACT test question, it's only okay to use the passive voice when...
  1. you don't know who or what did the action of the verb.
  2. you know who did something, but you don't want to say.
For example: The vase was broken.  This avoids accusing someone or telling the world who did it.

However, it still makes for dull writing, and you can still avoid it by using a pronoun:  Someone broke the vase.