Depending on the sentence you are constructing, it could be either active or passive. The active voice comes with a subject receiving the action that acts upon the verb, while the passive voice describes a process or emphasizes the action rather than who is doing the action.

In this article, be prepared to understand:

  • The differences between the active and passive voices;
  • When to usethe  active voice and the passive voice respectively;
  • How to change from the active voice to the passive voice.
  • Causative Verbs: how to use the infinitive in the structure?
  • How GlobalExam can help boost your Grammar and conjugation skills.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

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The Difference in Structure Between the Active And Passive Voices

Let’s first go over the differences in structure between these two voices.

The Active Voice

In the Active Voice, the subject performs the action of the verb. They mostly have a direct, clear, and strong tone.

For example:

  • Mary loves Italian food.
  • The company fired many people.
  • The dog chased the cat.

🡲 The three examples have the basic active voice construction: “subject + verb + object.”

The meaning is obvious and clear, which immediately indicates that it is the active form.

The Passive voice

In the Passive Voice, the subject is acted according to the verb.

🡲 In a passive sentence, it always contains: to be + past participle

The verb ‘to be’ can be conjugated in any tense:

  • Present simple: am, is, are Present continuous: am / is / are being
  • Past simple: was, were Past continuous: was / were being
  • Present perfect: has / have been Past perfect: had been
  • Future: will be With modals: can / could / must / would / should… be
  • Modals in the past: could / should / would / must have been

The past participle for ‘regular verbs’ is ‘-ed’: ask -> asked

For irregular verbs, you need to check an irregular verb list; past participles are in the third column: write – wrote – written

  • The fees were included in the contract.
  • The prices will be written on the quotation.
  • The operators have been asked to speed up production.

In the above examples, we don’t know who included the fees, who will write the quotation, nor who has asked the operators. Therefore, this information is not considered necessary or important. However, it can be included if necessary by adding the ‘by’ after the past participle:

One of the most famous social network companies was founded by a college drop-out.

The differences in structure between the Active Voice And the Passive Voice

Actove voice versus Passive voice structure:

Active VoicePassive Voice
Dave ate five apples at dinner.At dinner, five apples were eaten by Dave.
Beautiful dogs surround the neighborhood.The neighborhood is surrounded by beautiful dogs.
My husband changed the flat tire.The flat tire was changed by my husband.
My kids are going to watch a movie tonight.The movie will be watched by my kids tonight.
The monkeys love bananas.Bananas are loved by monkeys.
I read the entire novel yesterday.Yesterday, the entire novel was read by me.
The students clean the board every morning.The board is cleaned by the students every morning.
Suzan will clean the house this Sunday.The house will be cleaned by Suzan this Sunday.
The scientists discovered a new planet.The new planet was discovered by scientists.
The singer composed this song in one night.The song was composed by the singer in one night.

When Should You Use Active Or Passive Verbs?

The passive is used more commonly in writing especially in reports, textbooks, in industry, science and technology to describe processes, and for official rules. We use passive forms in these cases because we don’t always know who the ‘agent’ is.

You should use the active voice to convey a clearer idea with a stronger tone. Unlike the passive voice that displays a weaker and subtler tone. A great tip to give you would be to not use the passive voice to sound fancier.

With that being said, the passive voice is not often useful unless you want the focus to be the object, not the subject. For example, ‘the cat chased the mouse’ . It would be helpful to put the focus on the mouse by saying ‘the mouse was chased by the cat’.

Here is another important tip: Try to construct most of your sentences in the active voice, except when you can’t write in that form.

Compare the active and the passive in the following examples:

ActivePassive
People have used this application for a long timeThis application has been used for a long time.
You freeze-dry the reagent in the vials.Reagents are freeze-dried in the vials.
Someone has to count the points at the end.The points have to be counted at the end.

Techniques To Avoid Confusion While Using Certain Verbs

🡲 We sometimes use ‘get’ instead of ‘be’.

  • They got lost on their way to the construction site.
  • Do you often get asked questions about your unusual professional background?

🡲 Don’t confuse the past participle (-ed or irregular form) with the present participle (-ing)

  • I am interested in this article.
  • This is an interesting article.

🡲 A present participle can be used to describe the feeling that a noun causes. The article interests me. The past participle tells us how the subject feels. We can substitute the verb ‘feel’ for the verb ‘be’:

  • I was bored during the movie. (I felt bored.)
  • That movie was really boring. (The movie caused me to be bored.)

🡲 Other verb pairs that can be confusing (or that make us confused!) :

  • Jane told us an amusing/shocking/surprising story.
  • We were amused by/shocked by (or at)/surprised at her story.
  • The 10-day strike was annoying for the commuters.
  • The commuters were annoyed about the strike.

How To Change From Passive To Active Voice?

When you want to change a passive-voice sentence to an active-voice sentence, you need to carefully find who or what the action is expressed for. Or simply look for “by the…” in the phrase. Turn the object into the subject of the sentence, then change the verb accordingly (as mentioned before).

Examples:

  • The documents were signed by Rose last month > Rose signed all the documents last month.
  • The house was shattered into pieces by the government > The government shattered the house into pieces.
  • The lasagna was made with love by my mother > My mother made the lasagna with love.
  • The shoes were given to me by my best friend as a gift. > My best friend gave me the shoes as a gift.

Causative Verbs: How To Use The Infinitive In The Structure?

Causative verbs are used to show that a person causes, makes or enables another person to do something or make something happen. The structure of these types of sentences can be confusing as the verb after the causative verb may be in either the infinitive without ‘to’, the ‘to-infinitive’ or the past participle depending on the causative verb used.

ActivePassivePassivePassive
Causative verb + infinitive without "to"The DirectorMade
Will have
Could have let
John install the new computers.
Causative verb + "to" infinitiveThe DirectorGot
Wants
Will allow
Could permit
John to install the new computers.
Causative verb + past participleThe DirectorHad
Got
The new computers installed (by John).

Examples Of Causative Verbs: Practice With Sentences

In order to understand the causative verbs better, it is important to learn how they are formed and practice using them multiple times.

You should train with the following examples to grasp the meaning of causative verbs:

🡲 ‘Have’ someone do something indicates that a person used his/her authority to obtain the result.

The production manager had the technicians modify the electrical outlets.

🡲 ‘Get’ someone to do something indicates that the person persuaded someone else to do something.

The Human Resources Manager got the employees to sign a worksite safety agreement.

🡲 When we use the past participle, we don’t say who carried out the action.

We’ve had the new protocol checked and certified.

They got the machine operator to look for the cause of the defects.

🡲 ‘Let’ someone do something means to give someone permission and is similar to ‘allow’.

Their employer lets them leave early on Fridays in the summer.

🡲 ‘Make’ someone do something is more like ‘force’ someone to do something.

She made me write a letter of apology even though I had done nothing wrong.

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