Twist and Shout: VERBS

Active vs. Passive and Subject-Verb Agreement

Active vs. Passive Voice

 

Passive

A matter of structure, NOT time. Do not confuse passive voice with past tense.

 

In passive voice, the subject of the sentence receives the action of the verb. Thus, passive voice emphasizes the receiver of the action, minimizes the role of the doer, and results in both wordier and less precise sentences. It also deflects responsibility, while as a writer you want to develop ownership of your ideas. It is, however, appropriate when the doer of the action is unknown or unimportant (generally with science and business essays).

 

Basic sentence structure: Subject + Verb

                                    A creature + was built

            Notice that in this sentence we do not know WHO or WHAT builds the creature.

            Thus, the sentence is vague and negates the role of the “doer.”

 

The passive verb is always a verb phrase that consists of a form of the verb “to be” plus a participle.  It either looks like:            

 

            “to be” + participle                               The cake was eaten

or         “to be” + participle + by                       The cake was eaten by John.

 

-Note that in the second example we know WHO does the action; Still, this is a wordier sentence than when we use active voice.

 

Forms of “to be”:

            Present passive: am, is, are       

            Past passive: was, were, being, been

 

Past participles: This is the most common form of the passive verb. You form it when you combine a “to be” verb with an –ed form of another verb.  For example: is formed, was formed. We have taken the verb “form” and combined it with a form of “to be.”

 

Present Participle: Formed with a “to be” verb + an –ing verb to make the “progressive tense.” This tense indicates ongoing action, and slows down the language of the sentence. Thus, avoid this tense whenever you write an essay. To change this tense to active, simply omit the “be” verb and emphasize the –ing verb.

 

            She is planning next year’s strategy.       à        She plans next year’s strategy.

            He was running the race.                       à        He ran the race.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Active

In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action of the verb. To accomplish this, the subject that does the action is always BEFORE the verb.

 

Basic sentence structure: Subject + Verb + Direct Object

 

                                    Dr. Frankenstein + built + a creature

            Frankenstein, the man who built the creature, is before the verb “built,” while the

creature, who received the action of “built,” follows the verb.

 

                                    John ate the cake

                                    Subj.   Verb       D.O.

 

 

To Change Passive to Active:

If the sentence has the preposition “by:” drop the “be” verb and emphasize the participle.

 

                        Karen is driven to school by Yolanda.

 

            First, we drop “was” and “by,” for we do not need them in our active sentence.

Next, we place Yolanda, the “doer,” at the beginning of the sentence. Finally, we

let the verb separate the subject (Yolanda) from the object (Karen) of the

sentence. Now the sentence reads:

 

                        Yolanda driven Karen to school.

 

            However, now driven is the incorrect form of the verb “drive.” To make the

sentence correct, we simply choose the right form of the verb. Since the original

verb phrase “is driven” is in present tense, then our new verb must be in present

tense as well. Thus, driven à drives. So our final sentence reads:

 

                        Yolanda drives Karen to school.

 

If the sentence lacks the preposition “by” (and thus, is vaguer):

 

                        Karen is driven to school.

 

            In this sentence, the reader does not know WHO drives Karen to school. Thus,

when changing a sentence such as this from passive to active, you must add in the

missing information. In our case, that missing information is Yolanda. Again, we

eliminate the “be” verb and emphasize the participle, and place the verb between

the subject (Yolanda) and the object (Karen):

 

                        Yolanda driven Karen to school.

 

 

 

Like in the previous example, we must once again convert driven to the correct

verb tense. Thus, driven à drives. So our final sentence reads:

 

                        Yolanda drives Karen to school.

 

One final piece of information: If your passive verb is also in past tense, you must change it to present tense for all of your literary essays. Thus,

 

            Was driven à drives                Were running à run                 Was going à goes

 

Subject-Verb Agreement

In each clause of a sentence, the subject(s) and verb(s) must “agree.” That is, a singular subject is paired with a singular verb, and plural subjects are paired with plural verbs. However, there is one tricky thing about English to remember:      

            Generally, while plural subjects in English end with an “S,” their corresponding

present tense verbs do not.     

                        Dogs run through the street.

                        Jeff and Matt went to the store

 

            Similarly, while a singular subject does not end with an “S,” its corresponding

present tense verb does.

                        The dog runs through the street.

                        Jeff goes to the store

 

For the past tense, the –ed ending of the verbs is in effect (except for irregular verbs).

            Amy realized that she forgot her homework

            Subj        Verb

 

            Amy and Jack both realized that they forgot their homework

            Subj 1          Subj 2                Verb

 

            Amy and Jack first went to school then realized that they forgot their homework.

            Subj 1          Subj 2           V1                                         V 2

 

When a singular subject completes multiple actions, each verb is singular:

            The potato chip smells good and crunches in my mouth.           (Present)

                                Subject        Verb 1                          Verb 2

 

            The potato chip smelled good and crunched in my mouth.         (Past)

                                Subject        Verb 1                          Verb 2

 

Be careful when you have multiple subjects completing the same singular action, for a plural verb must always be used:  

            A sheet of paper, a pencil, and lip gloss fall out of the book bag.         (Present)

                              Subj 1        Subj 2               Subj 3      Verb

 

            A sheet of paper, a pencil, and lip gloss fell out of the book bag.         (Past)

                              Subj 1        Subj 2               Subj 3      Verb

 

Similarly, when you have multiple subjects and multiple verbs, each verb must also be plural:

            The mayor and the governor argue, spit, and yell during the conference. (Present)

                          Subj. 1                      Subj. 2          V 1        V 2             V 3

 

            The mayor and the governor argued, spat, and yelled during the conference. (Past)

                          Subj. 1                      Subj. 2          V 1          V 2                V 3

 

Neither/Either: Sometimes, we want to introduce 2 ideas that have a relationship with each other. The construction of such a sentence is or, nor, neither … nor or either … or.

The verb depends on the subject that is closest to the verb.

 

                        Neither the milk nor the groceries have been delivered.

            Have is plural because groceries is plural.

 

                        Either the children or their mother is to blame.

            Is is singular because mother is singular.

 

A Final note: Be very careful when the subject(s) are separated from the verb(s) by a prepositional phrase (beginning with of, as, in, to, on, like, etc.)

 

                        One of the islands appears to be inhabited.

                        Subj.        Prep. Phrase            Verb

            Here, One, NOT islands, is the subject of the sentence. So, the verb is singular.

 

                        His answers to our question change everything.

                                    Subj.       Prep. Phrase          Verb

            Here, answers, NOT question, is the subject. Therefore, the verb is plural.

 

                        My teacher, as well as other faculty members, opposes the policy.

                                                Subj.                       Prep. Phrase                                 Verb

            Here, teacher, NOT members, is the subject, so the verb is singular.

 

 

Written by Denise Slavinski, 9/19/2007