Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Grammatical Voice

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
English

Check out these two sentences:

1. I am reading an article.

2. The article is being read by me.

Both of these sentences are about someone reading an article, but they are written using different grammatical voices. One uses the active voice, whereas the other uses the passive voice. Do you know which one is which? If not, don't worry!

Today we will explore the definition of grammatical voice and the different types in English grammar. We will look at the structure of each voice so you will be more aware of how to form sentences using each grammatical voice. We will also consider the effects that each voice has on the sentence and how they differ from one another.

Grammatical voice definition

Grammatical voice refers to the relationship between the action of a verb and the participants involved in the action (i.e. the subject and object). The grammatical voice can either be active or passive.

An example of active voice is: 'I made a cake', whereas an example of passive voice is 'the cake was made by me.'

English grammatical voices

In English, there are two grammatical voices: the active voice and the passive voice. These voices are used in English for contrasting reasons (depending on the focus of a sentence), but they are both important in forming sentences.

Grammatical Voice Image of man and two road signs StudySmarterActive vs passive, pixabay.com

So what are the differences between active and passive voice? Let's look at each of these voices in more detail!

Grammatical active voice

The active voice occurs in sentences where the subject performs the action. This is the most common form of grammatical voice, so is used more frequently than passive voice. The active voice is seen to be more direct and commanding, with a focus on the person/thing carrying out the action.

Sarah watched a film.

From this sentence, we know that the subject (Sarah) carried out the action (watched a film).

The Grammatical Structure of the Active Voice

In a sentence, the active voice follows a particular structure. This is important to know as it can help you distinguish the difference between how the active and passive voice is written. The structure of the active voice is:

Subject → Verb → Object (also referred to as SVO).

This means that the subject comes first in the sentence, followed by the verb, and then the object. It is worth noting that active voice verbs can be written in any tense.

Active Voice Examples

Below are some examples of sentences written in the active voice:


Subject

Verb

Object

The mankicked the ball
The dogwill eathis food
Idrankwater
Shestrokesthe dog
They intimidatethe child
Iam holdinga spoon
The womanpaintsa picture
Theywill makea mess

Here, we can see that there is a focus on the person/thing doing the action. This makes the sentence clearer and easier for the reader to follow - it is obvious who is doing what.

Grammatical passive voice

The sentence is in the passive voice when the subject is being acted upon. The passive voice shifts our focus to the person/thing affected by the action, as opposed to the subject performing the action. This type of grammatical voice is used less frequently than active voice.

The squirrel was chased by the cat.

From this sentence, there is a focus on the squirrel who is affected by the action of the cat.

The Grammatical Structure of Passive Voice

The passive voice follows a different grammatical structure from the active voice. The structure of the passive voice looks like this:

Subject → Auxiliary verb 'to be' → Past participle verb → Prepositional phrase

In case you need reminding: A prepositional phrase contains a preposition (such as by, with, about etc.), an object and/or any other modifiers of the object.

Passive Voice Examples

Below are some examples of sentences written in the passive voice:

Subject

Auxiliary Verb 'to be'

Past participle verb

Prepositional phrase

Hewaschasedby the dog
Theywerehelpedby their parents
The mousewaseatenby the cat
The cakewill bebakedby me
The letteris beingwrittenby the teacher
The bagwasruinedby the rain
The peoplewereshockedby the news
Theywill be warnedby the police

Here, we can see that the use of the passive voice focuses our attention on the receiver of the action, as opposed to the person/thing performing the action. This is done to create a distance between the subject receiving the action and the person/thing doing the action, which allows the sentence to become more indirect.

Grammatical rules of voice

It is important to remember that some sentences may be wrongly mistaken for passive voice:

  • The passive voice always includes a form of 'to be'.
  • But the use of 'to be' in a sentence doesn't automatically mean that it is written in passive voice!
  • For example, the sentence: 'I will be writing a letter' includes a form of 'to be' but is written in the active voice and follows the SVO structure.
  • The passive version of this sentence would be: 'The letter will be written by me'. This example is different from the active voice as it uses the past participle (written) and also uses a prepositional phrase (by me).

Active vs. passive voice

Below are some examples of sentences written in both the active and passive voice. As you read through these examples, consider the differences between them - do you notice a difference in the tone of each sentence?

Sentence in active voiceSentence in passive voice
The cat bit the woman.The woman was bitten by the cat.
Steve drew a picture.The picture was drawn by Steve.
She fought her sister.Her sister was fought by her.
I am eating a pie.The pie is being eaten by me.
Shelby saw the building.The building was seen by Shelby.
The teacher is writing an email.The email is being written by the teacher.

Grammatical Voice - Key takeaways

  • Grammatical voice refers to the relationship between the action of a verb and the participants in an event (i.e. the subject and object).
  • There are two types of grammatical voice - active and passive.
  • The active voice follows a subject, verb, object sentence structure.
  • The passive voice follows the structure: subject, auxiliary verb 'to be', past participle verb, prepositional phrase.
  • Active voice is used more commonly than passive voice.

Grammatical Voice

Grammatical voice refers to the relationship between the action of a verb and the participants in an event (i.e. the subject and object).

There are two types of voice in English grammar, the active voice and the passive voice.

The active voice follows the structure of:


Subject, verb, object (SVO).

The passive voice follows the structure of:


Subject, auxiliary verb 'to be', past participle verb, prepositional phrase.

Active voice verbs can be written in any tense!

Final Grammatical Voice Quiz

Question

What does grammatical voice refer to?

Show answer

Answer

The relationship between the action of a verb and the participants in an event

Show question

Question

What are the two different types of grammatical voice?

Show answer

Answer

Active and passive

Show question

Question

Active voice follows which grammatical structure?


A. OVS

B. SVO

C. SOV

Show answer

Answer

B. SVO

Show question

Question

The passive voice always includes a form of the verb 'to be'.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

The verb 'to be' is only used in passive sentences.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

What sentence structure does active voice follow?

Show answer

Answer

Subject, verb, object

Show question

Question

What does a prepositional phrase consist of?

Show answer

Answer

A preposition, an object and/or modifiers

Show question

Question

Fill in the blanks:


The active voice occurs in a sentence where the _____ performs the ______.

Show answer

Answer

subject

action

Show question

Question

Fill in the blanks:


The active voice occurs in a sentence where the position of the  ______ is taken by an  _______.

Show answer

Answer

subject

object

Show question

Question

Active voice can only be written in the past tense.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Is the following sentence written in active or passive voice?


'Barbara read her book'

Show answer

Answer

Active voice

Show question

Question

Is the following sentence written in active or passive voice?


'The boy was pushed by his friend'

Show answer

Answer

Passive voice

Show question

Question

Is the following sentence written in active or passive voice?


'I made some cupcakes'


Show answer

Answer

Active voice

Show question

Question

Is the following sentence written in active or passive voice?


'The daughter was hugged by her mother'


Show answer

Answer

Passive voice

Show question

Question

Which of the following sentences is written in passive voice?


A. The man will write the story.

B. They will go to the shops.

C. The work will be completed by her.

Show answer

Answer

C. The work will be completed by her.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Grammatical Voice quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.