Grammatical Voice

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Grammatical Voice Grammatical Voice

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    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 StudySmarterIn English grammar, we have the active and the passive voice.- pixabay

    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.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Grammatical Voice

    What is the active voice sentence structure?

    The active voice follows the structure of:


    Subject, verb, object (SVO).

    What is voice in grammar?

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

    What are the types of voice in grammar?

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

    What is the passive voice sentence structure?

    The passive voice follows the structure of:


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

    Is active voice present tense?

    Active voice verbs can be written in any tense!

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    The passive voice always includes a form of the verb 'to be'.True or false?

    The verb 'to be' is only used in passive sentences.True or false?

    Active voice can only be written in the past tense.True or false?

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