Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Teaching Active and Passive Voice

Teaching active and passive voice is a bit of a challenge. Most older students have heard of passive voice, and know they shouldn't use it, but have difficulty identifying it. It gets even more challenging to teach when I explain that it's not technically grammatically incorrect. Writing in active voice is a best practice; in fact, there are times when passive voice might be necessary or preferred. (Can you just see the students checking out?) So why, then, teach active and passive voice at all?

The short answer is that active voice is more direct and clear.

Active: Andrew ate the burrito.

Passive: The burrito was eaten by Andrew.

Passive: The burrito was eaten.

In the active example, the sentence is straightforward. Subject (agent of action), verb, object.

In the first passive example, the agent of the action (Andrew) and the object (the burrito) are flip-flopped. It also contains more words with the addition of "was" and "by."

In the second passive example, we don't even know who ate the burrito!

This is a simplistic example, but you can see how clarity can suffer, especially in a complex sentence when the agent of the action is missing. Students who understand the difference between active and passive voice are more efficient, effective writers. I like to use a cooperative game to engage students. You can find the one I use here.

Politicians love passive voice: "Mistakes were made."  How's that for avoiding responsibility?

Vote "No" for passive voice!