What is a Voice in English grammar?

In a general sense, we are familiar with the generic term voice. But today, we are not talking about the voice that we hear or the voice that sings. Today, we are talking about voice in English grammar.

In English grammar, there are eight parts of speech. One of the most important and common parts is the verb. When we say verb, we know that we are talking about an action. But further, verbs can have five different properties that function differently. Voice is one of them. Voice is a verb form that tells us the relationship between the action and the performer.

In general, voice shows whether the subject of a sentence is performing the task or is being acted upon by the verb action. This function gives us the ability to identify a sentence as an active or a passive one. So, to learn all these in detail, let us get into a quick discussion.

What is voice?

In general terms, a voice in English grammar is one of the five main properties of a verb. It is the form of a verb that tells us the relationship between the action of the verb and the actor present in an argument. That is the basic aim of a voice.

So, a voice can either show that the subject or a person is doing the action or the action of the sentence is being acted upon the subject identified. This gives us the choice of an active voice and a passive voice. When it is the former case, where the subject is performing a particular task, the sentence is said to be in active voice. But when the subject of the sentence is being acted upon by the verb action, the sentence becomes a passive voice sentence.

Thus, the voice of a verb in English grammar mainly tries to indicate whether something is acting or is being acted upon. Technically, it tells us if the verb is active or passive.

What is Active voice?

Active voice is one of the two voices of a verb. It is the type of voice where the subject identified in the argument is directly performing or doing the task or the verb action. So basically, in active voice sentences, the subject of the verb does the action described by the verb. And there is an object that the subject acts on.

Here, the structure is very direct, and the message is clear and strong. In this structure, first, the subject is mentioned, followed by the verb that the subject acts. And finally, the object that is being performed upon.

So, active voice follows: subject+verb+object

Let us look at some examples to understand better.

  • Cats eat fish.
  • She is writing her homework.
  • Our teacher drew the art that is in the museum.
  • My father collected all the gifts last night.
  • The students took the basketball.
  • The teacher brought the principal’s chair.

As we can see, all the sentences here demonstrate active voice. That means the verb is directly being performed by the participant or the subject of the sentence.

What is Passive voice?

Passive voice, on the other hand, is where the subject of the verb is being acted upon. So basically, here, the message is portrayed indirectly in a twisted manner. Here, the subject is not directly performing the task himself. Instead, the subject is being acted upon by the action of the verb.

In passive voice sentences, the structure is quite different from that of active voice. Here, the subject comes at the end. That means the sentence first begins with the object, followed by the verb, and then the subject. It is also important that there is the prevalence of the auxiliary verb be and the past participle form of the verb. Further, the subject in passive voice is always preceded by a prepositional phrase or by phrase.

So, passive voice follows: object+verb+subject

Let us look at some examples;

  • The book was taken by our teacher.
  • The ball was kicked by my dog.
  • The bus was stopped by the policemen.
  • Our letter was signed by the principal.
  • The killer was arrested by the Texas police.

Here, as we can see, the subjects tag along with a prepositional phrase and are always at the end. In such a sentence, such nouns or things no longer remain the grammatical subject of importance.

When to use active voice and passive voice?

Usually, it is recommended to use active voice whenever there is a chance or possibility. Especially when the subject is identified and has a distinct verb, the sentence should always be in an active voice. There are several reasons such as

  • The most important being that an active voice makes sentences clear and strong. They convey a direct message, leaving no room for confusion for the reader.
  • Next important point is that it uses very few and direct words. It just includes the subject of the sentence and the verb action. There is no need for auxiliary verbs and additional terms like we need in passive voice.
  • Further, active voice reduces the chance of mistakes. While using a passive voice, forming a sentence can be a little tough and complicated. But in active voice, there are no such troubles.

However, in some cases, passive voice will come handy. They are;

  • When one tries to give a crime report. In such cases passive voice comes in handy because the subjects are mostly unknown.
  • Passive voice can also be helpful in technical and scientific explanations. In such cases, the engagement becomes easier and clearer.

Anyway, if there is a need for a shift from one voice to another, it is very well possible.

  • If a sentence is in active voice, try to exchange the position of the subject with the object of the sentence. And a prepositional phrase needs to precede a subject in a passive voice. Further, with the help of the verb be and change of the verb tense, we can change the sentence into passive voice.
  • In the case of passive voice to active voice, one has to simply identify the main subject and place it at the beginning. And then mention the verb that the subject is performing.

That is how one can easily choose between keeping a sentence in either active voice or passive voice.

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