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How to Check for Passive Tense


The passive voice transforms the subject of your sentence from a dynamic performer of action to an impotent receiver. Although you can occasionally use passive voice in your sentences, your writing will be stronger and clearer if you use active voice. By identifying the verb and subject of your sentences, you can determine whether the sentence is in active or passive voice.

Locate the verb in your sentence. A verb is a word expressing action. This can be a physical action ("walk," "jump," "throw") or a mental action ("hope," "dream," "impress").

Check whether the verb is paired with a form of "to be." For instance, if the verb is "performed," is it simply "performed," or is it "was performed" or "has been performed"? If the verb is not paired with a form of "to be," the sentence is not passive.

Identify the subject of your sentence. The subject is the noun that performs the verb. For instance, if your sentence is, "Jonathan watched the football game last night," your verb is "watched." Because the noun who "watched" was Jonathan, "Jonathan" is the subject of your sentence. If your sentence does not name its subject, it is passive. For instance, in the sentence, "Native Americans were oppressed for centuries," the person or group oppressing the Native Americans is unnamed, making the sentence passive.

Determine whether the subject comes before or after the verb, if you have named the subject in your sentence. A passive sentence puts the subject after the verb. For instance, "Jonathan watched the football game" is in active voice because the subject ("Jonathan") comes before the verb ("watched"). If you had written "The football game was watched by Jonathan" instead, it would be in passive voice because the verb would precede the subject.

Tips
  • Change your passive sentences to active voice by rewriting them with the subject before the verb.
  • Familiarize yourself with all forms of "to be" in order to find them in your sentences: "is," "are," "was," "were," "will," "be" and "been."
  • If your sentence has more than one verb, it may or may not have more than one subject. "Steven Spielberg wrote and directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind" has only one subject ("Steven Spielberg") performing both verbs ("wrote" and "directed"). However, "Richard Dreyfuss starred in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was directed by Steven Spielberg" has two subjects ("Richard Dreyfuss" and "Steven Spielberg") performing its two verbs ("starred" and "directed").
About the Author

A resident of the Baltimore area, Rachel Kolar has been writing since 2001. Her educational research was featured at the Maryland State Department of Education Professional Schools Development Conference in 2008. Kolar holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Kenyon College and a Master of Arts in teaching from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

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