Avoiding the Passive Voice: A Model Response

Passive sentences are sometimes used by students in their essays in an attempt to vary their sentence structure. However, this can often lead to rather confusing sentences where it is unclear what is actually happening in the statement. Hence, especially for younger writers, students should strive to simplify their statements by using active and direct constructions.

Avoid: The bag was stolen by the robber who was chased by the lady.

Instead, consider: The lady chased the robber who had stolen her bag.

This way, there is less ambiguity about the actions being done and to whom the actions were done to.

Mini Exercise

Try changing these sentences to active ones

1. The ice-cream was eaten by the monster

2. Many games were played by the girls, and many prizes were won by them.

Scroll down the page for the answers.

Therefore, students should be mindful when using the passive voice and, as far as possible. use the active voice in their writing . If you have not subscribed to our monthly newsletter chock full of English titbits and news discussion prompts, sign up at the bottom of the page today!

For those who are already subscribed, why not try your hand at rewriting the paragraph below, for a start?

Task: Convert the uninspired paragraph below and bring a sense of action using the active voice.​

Exercise

An objective survey of the scene before Sam necessitated the conclusion that escape was all but impossible. Sam’s gun was drawn closer to his chest, not that much relief was brought to him. Still, in moments of peril, one can only clutch at anything that conveys a sense of safety. Suddenly, shots were fired by the enemy. Sam thought instinctively that it was then or never.

Tips:

· Passive sentence structures tend to place the object of the sentence at the beginning.

E.g. “The noodles were eaten by me” rather than “I ate the noodles”.

· In rewriting the paragraph, aim to put the subject and verb in the beginning of the sentences.

E.g. Daniel threw the paper away is preferable to “The paper was thrown away by Daniel.”

Model Response

Sam surveyed the scene before him. He realised that there would be no escape, and drew the gun closer to his chest. It did not bring much relief, but in moments of peril, a false sense of security was better than none. Just then, the enemy fired shots and Sam instinctively ducked for cover.

Compare the original and the improved version. Did you notice that when you use the active voice, you convey a sense of action and movement? Conversely, when sentences are predominantly in the passive voice, did you feel like the story was hardly moving and that the paragraph felt more like an information dump?

Answers for Mini Exercise:

​1. The monster ate the ice-cream.

2. The girls played many games and won many prizes.​​

I hope you've enjoyed trying the exercises!