Definition: A sentence construction showing simply a subject and what happens to it is called “the passive voice.” It consists of a form of the verb be (be, am, are, is, was, were, will be, has been, have been, etc.) and a participle (often a word ending in “ed”)—The employee was fired, the war will be ended, the papers are corrected, etc. Good writers prefer active voice because it is often more interesting (and informative) to read. Active voice examples: The company fired the employee, the politicians will end the war, the teacher corrects the papers, etc. The passive voice is useful when what happened is more important than who or what did it. Active voice: The candidate [subject] crisscrossed the state, shaking hands and kissing babies.
Passive voice: The state was crisscrossed by the candidate, shaking hands and kissing babies [Note that even though the actor is named afterward, the "be + participle" form is still the passive voice.]
When to use passive voice?
Passive voice is useful when the action is more important than the actor—or for a change of pace, but try to avoid a string of passive-voice sentences without an active-voice break. The following paragraph contains too much passive voice, which can result in awkward and vague paragraphs that can be tiresome to read (the passive verbs are underlined). The subsequent research was improved by randomizing. The new subjects were assigned to a control or treatment group, and the process was monitored by a researcher who had been hired by a neutral committee and who had been awarded a master’s degree in 2002. The table below is an example summary of active and passive voice of the verb to see: Tense Active Voice Passive Voice
Past PerfectHad seen (I had seen it)Had been seen (it had been seen) Past Saw (I saw it)Was seen (it was seen)
Present perfectHave seen (I have seen it)Has been seen (it has been seen) PresentSee (I see it)Is seen (it is seen)