Grammar Unit Mr. Lynch
Active and Passive Voice • The term voice, when used in English grammar, refers to the structure of a sentence. There are two “voices” in English grammar • active voice • passive voice.
Active Voice • In an active voice sentence, the agent (the one who does the action in the sentence) is stated explicitly as the grammatical subject. • The thing that the agent does something to (the direct object) comes after the verb.
Active Voice Example Active Voice Sentence: Julio cooked fried rice. “Julio” is the agent. He’s the one who does the action. In this case, he’s the one who cooked the rice. In this active voice sentence, Julio is the grammatical subject. What did Julio cook? He cooked fried rice. The words fried rice make up the direct object. The fried rice is the thing that the agent (Julio) does something to. In this case he cooked it.
Passive Voice • In a passive voice sentence, the thing that the agent does something to, is placed as the grammatical subject of the sentence. • The agent (the one who does the action) is placed after the subject, usually in a prepositional phrase. In fact, sometimes the agent is hidden, not even mentioned.
Passive Voice Example • Passive Voice Sentence: The fried rice was cooked by Julio. (The agent is mentioned.) • Passive Voice Sentence: The fried rice was cooked. (The agent is not mentioned.)
When to Use the Active Voice • Use the active voice in most of the writing you do in school and at work. • Studies in readability indicate that active voice sentences, where the agent is stated first, are easier to understand than passive voice sentences.
3 Reasons to Use Passive Voice • When the receiver of the action is more important than the agent. • Active Voice: The Nobel Foundation awarded President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. • Passive Voice: President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. • The passive voice construction places the emphasis on the receiver of the Nobel Peace Prize, not on the organization that awarded the prize.
3 Reasons to Use Passive Voice • When you consciously try to minimize the role of the agent or the agent is not known. • Active Voice: Marie Jenkins could not complete the status report because James McDonald misplaced the manufacturing data. • Passive Voice: The status report was not completed because manufacturing data were misplaced.
3 Reasons to Use Passive Voice • When you write about scientific, technical, or natural processes. • Active Voice: The conveyor belt delivers the shrink-wrapped product to the packing station. • Passive Voice: The shrink-wrapped product is delivered to the packing station.
Active and Passive Conclusion • Using active voice or passive voice is a stylistic and rhetorical choice about sentence structure. • It’s important to understand the structure so that you control the structure instead of letting the structure control you. • Remember; use the active voice in most of your academic and work-related writing.
Active and Passive Practice When the Phillie’s Shane Victorino overran him, third base was stolen by Johnny Damon. Johnny Damon stole third base when the Phillie’s Shane Victorino overran him.
Tip • The judicious use of the active voice or the passive voice requires thought. It is up to the writer to determine when the active voice makes sense and when the passive voice makes sense. • In this sentence, the focus, the IMPORTANCE, is carried by Johnny Damon.
Active and Passive Practice A happy Thanksgiving is wished by me for everyone. I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.
Tip This sentence is fairly simple. “I” is the agent, and should be the grammatical subject of the active voice construction.
Active and Passive Practice The attorney general indicted the notorious gangster, Al Capone, for federal income tax evasion. The notorious gangster, Al Capone, was indicted for federal income tax evasion.
Tip • This sentence forces students to determine what the focus of the sentence should be. • Should it be the attorney general? Should it be Al Capone? • Most readers would find that the focus should be Al Capone. In fact, the agent seems insignificant compared to the receiver of the action. • The trailing prepositional phrase (“by the attorney general”) is best left out.
Active and Passive Practice The student services committee forwarded revised disciplinary procedures to the campus president. The revised disciplinary procedures were forwarded to the campus president.
Tip • The “revised disciplinary procedures” carry more weight than the student services committee. It’s a judgment call.
Active and Passive Practice Six Thousand shares of Disney stock were bought by Jenny Allen when she was only nineteen. Jenny Allen bought six thousand shares of Disney stock when she was only nineteen.
Tip • The focus really should be on the agent, a young woman who had enough foresight (and money!) to buy 6000 shares of Disney at age 19.
Active and Passive Practice People can view the dazzling meteor shower from the observation tower at the planetarium. The dazzling meteor shower can be viewed from the observation tower at the planetarium.
Tip • The focus should be the “dazzling meteor shower.” Who (or what) else could “view” it, if not people? • Again, although the word “people” is the agent, the focus should be on the recipient of the action, the meteor shower.
Active and Passive Practice The acceptance letter from Harvard was received by Jenny Arteaga last Tuesday. Jenny Atreaga received the acceptance letter from Harvard last Tuesday.
Active and Passive Practice An invitation to Francis Suarez’s victory party was received by Mr. Packer, the state party chairman. Mr. Packer, the state party chairman, received an invitation to Francis Suarez’s victory party.
Tip • Although the idea is not related to active/passive voice, some students will want to omit the appositive “the state party chairman” from the revised sentence. • Remember that using an appositive is a good way of defining a term within the flow of the sentence.
Active and Passive Practice The Baseball Writers Association of America named Joe Mauer, the Minnesota Twins’ catcher who led the American League with a .365 batting average, MVP for 2009. Joe Mauer, the Minnesota Twins’ catcher who led the American League with a .365 batting average, was named MVP for 2009.
Tip • The focus of this sentence should clearly not be “The Baseball Writers Association of America”; it should be Joe Mauer.
Apostrophe Errors • it's vs. its: A common error in our writing is using the apostrophe (or NOT using it) incorrectly when trying to show that something belongs to someone. Here is a common mistake: • Error: The dog lost it's collar. • It is correct to refer to a dog using "it." A dog is not a person, and despite our sometimes inordinate love for our pets, pets are not human. Only humans deserve "his" or "her."
Forms of its and it’s (it is) • The word its is the possessive form, the one that shows ownership. • The word, it'sis actually a contraction of two words, it is. • Correct Form: The dog lost its collar.
Formal Writing • In formal writing, it is best (not “it’s best”) not to use contractions. • Use the expanded form it is, instead of the contraction it’s. • The form its’ does not exist. Do not use it, ever.
Who’s vs. Whose • Another common error is confusing whose with who's. • Error: The post office manager, who's mother is in the hospital, retired. • Correct: The post office manager, whose mother is in the hospital, retired.
You’re vs. Your • Some students often confuse the homonyms you’re (you are) and your (possessive). • Error: The dog ran away with you’re coat. • Correct: The dog ran away with your coat.
They’re vs. There vs. Their • The most commonly confused apostrophe error comes from the correct usage of they’re (they are), there (location), and their (ownership). • Error: There not going their tonight. • Correct: They’re not going there tonight.
Apostrophe Practice If you think your going to the movies tonight, your mistaken. Correct: If you think you’re going to the movies tonight, you’re mistaken. TIP: This sentence would be grammatically correct if spoken, but conventional English requires the use of the apostrophe “re”.
Tip • As a “rule of thumb”: Do not use contractions in formal academic writing unless writing dialogue or consciously using an informal tone.
Apostrophe Practice The boy who's dog was sent to the pound cried uncontrollably. Correct: The boy whose dog was sent to the pound cried uncontrollably.
Apostrophe Practice A good dog always cleans its’ food bowl. Correct: A good dog always cleans its food bowl. TIP: Remember its’ is not a word.
Apostrophe Practice The Sisters of Saint Joseph support they're convent with outside employment. Correct: The Sisters of Saint Joseph support theirconvent with outside employment.
Apostrophe Practice Its never as good a deal as the salesperson makes it out to be. Correct: It’snever as good a deal as the salesperson makes it out to be.
Apostrophe Practice The rugby players promise that their not going to stop playing after August. Correct: The rugby players promise that they’re not going to stop playing after August.
Apostrophe Practice Their not going to the carnival, and your not either. Correct: They’re not going to the carnival, and you’re not either.
Apostrophe Practice Its never too late to apply, even when the registrar's office closes it's doors. Correct: It’s never too late to apply, even when the registrar's office closes its doors.
Apostrophe Practice Its’ important to realize whose actually using the computers in the lab. Correct: It’simportant to realize who’s actually using the computers in the lab.
Attribution • When students (or any writers, for that matter) use material from secondary sources, they must attribute or “give credit” to the writer of the material. • Teachers expect students to use this standard academic practice when they write anything (research papers, reviews, or critical essays) that uses another writer’s material as the basis for an essay.
Verbs of Attribution • Certain verbs make “giving credit to” or attributing information to others easy. These verbs are called verbs of attribution. Several verbs of attribution exist, but we will list only a few of the most common ones.