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Section 11.3.2

Voice

Voice is used to tell whether the subject of the sentence or clause performs the action of the verb or receives the action of the verb. There are twovoices in English: active and passive. In the active voice, the subject of thesentence is the agent, or performer of the action, and the object is the receiver of the action. In the passivevoice, the grammatical subject of the sentence is the receiver of the action. The agent, if expressed at all, is expressed after the verb in aby-phrase.

Use the passive voice to express actions in which the agent is arbitrary, notknown, or not important. Otherwise, use the activevoice. To form the passive, use a form of the auxiliary be followed by the past participle of the main verb, and place thereceiver of the action in the subject position.


Active Voice

J. Robert Oppenheimer gave the first comprehensivedescription of a neutron star in 1939, shortly before he began working on thefirst atomic bomb. [The agent, Oppenheimer, is the subject. The receiver of the action, description, is the object.]

Passive Voice

The first comprehensive description of a neutron star wasgiven by J. Robert Oppenheimer in 1939, shortly before he began workingon the first atomic bomb. [The receiver of the action,description is the subject. The agent, Oppenheimer, is ina by-phrase.]

--William J. Kaufmann, "The Black Hole"


In the passive voice, express the agent only if it provides important information forthe sentence. If you choose to express the agent, do so in a by-phrasefollowing the verb.


The nickel content of steel was cut by the steel manufacturers during WorldWar II and never brought back to pre-war levels. Consequently, classic cars madebefore the war tend to hold up much longer than later models. [agent,steel manufacturers, important to the writer's purpose]

The nickel content of steel was cut during World War IIand never brought back to pre-war levels. Consequently, classic cars made beforethe war tend to hold up much longer than later models. [agent notimportant to the writer's purpose]

--"Take It or Leave It," Valley Comic News


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