The Voice: How to Revise to Active Voice
Most of the SHSAT revisions for voice will be turning the passive voice into the active voice. (For a refresher on when you won’t use the active voice, see “The Voice”.) But, if you are new to revising you might not sure what the best route is to getting to clear writing in the active voice. Look no further! We’re going to cover tactics for active voice writing, and a method to revise passive voice to active voice. Let’s do this!
Active Voice Tactics
There are three tactics to use to figure out if you need to revise to the active voice: Name It, Weigh It, Change It.
When you read your given sentences, you’re going to look for the options that are written in active voice and the ones that are written in passive voice. Here are the clues:
Clue 1: What’s being described? Is the emphasis on the person acting, or on what’s being done?
Clue 2: Does the sentence end with “by”? If your sentence ends with a phrase that includes “by”, it probably is passive.
Take a look at the following examples, and see if you can identify the passive and active voice:
- Gollum bit his precious.
- Potions was Harry’s least favorite class.
- Adrian was mourned by Rocky and Pauley, until Pauley died too.
- Which is best played by Oprah in A Wrinkle in Time.
- Wario is one of the best bad guys to ever grace a video screen.
Apply your clues, and ask if the sentence describes an action, or someone or something being acted upon. Now, for each sentence, NAME IT! Decide whether each uses the active or passive voice. Here are the correct answers:
- Gollum bit his precious. [active]
- Potions was Harry’s least favorite class. [passive]
- Adrian was mourned by Rocky and Pauley, until Pauley died too. [passive]
- Which is best played by Oprah in A Wrinkle in Time. [passive]
- Wario is one of the best bad guys to ever grace a video screen. [active]
Now that you’ve NAMED IT, it’s time to WEIGH IT. We’ll figure out the role of the subject and the verb for each of them, and why we named them the way that we did.
When we WEIGH IT, we’re asking ourselves if the statement is already clear, or if it brings up more issues. We’re going to see what position the subject is in compared to the verb, and what is being emphasized (remembering that if the action is emphasized, it’s active). Let’s WEIGH our examples:
- Gollum bit his precious. [This is active because the subject, Gollum, comes first, and the action—the biting– is emphasized.]
- Potions was Harry’s least favorite class. [This might be a tricky one, because we use this structure frequently. But, this is passive. Potions isn’t identical to Harry’s least favorite class, since it’s Snape’s favorite one. We are better off to start this sentence with “Harry’s least favorite class….”]
- Adrian was mourned by Rocky and Pauley, until Pauley died too. [This sentence includes the “by” for Clue #2. It isn’t automatically passive, but it’s a big clue for us! The emphasis is on what’s being done to Adrian—she is being mourned, so it’s passive.]
- Which is best played by Oprah in A Wrinkle in Time. [Here, the “best played” is the weird phrasing that tips us off that this is passive and could be better written in the active voice.]
- Wario is one of the best bad guys to ever grace a video screen. [This is active. Wario is front and center, followed by “is”.]
Now that we have NAMED IT and WEIGHED IT, we’re on the final step, which is to CHANGE IT. What are we changing? Any of the passive voice sentences that should be changed into the active voice. Here’s how to do it.
It might be confusing to pick out which rewrite is the best change to make to a passive voice sentence. The HUGE relief is that you don’t usually need to revise a sentence’s voice if it is already active. So, you name the passive ones, weigh why they are passive, and focus on changing the passive voice sentences into the active voice. Using the active voice can simplify the sentence and make the meaning clear for readers.
The method that works best to CHANGE IT is the Simple Arrow Method. In the active voice, the subject performs the action expressed in the verb, so we figure out where the subject is. For the simple arrow method, you find the person or thing doing the act in the sentence, and draw and arrow to whatever is being acted upon—then, for passive voice sentences, you’ll CHANGE IT to make sure that the arrow goes left to right.
The Simple Arrow Method
- NAME and WEIGH your passive voice sentences.
- Draw an arrow from the subject doing the action in the sentence to whatever is receiving the action.
- Now, move the parts of the sentence so the subject doing the act is first in the sentence.
Here’s an example, from above:
Potions was Harry’s least favorite class.
Since “Harry’s least favorite class” is the subject, its action relates to Portions. The Simple Arrow tells us in what position “Harry’s least favorite class” should be in the sentence. So, now, all we have to do is CHANGE IT! Here’s the rewritten sentence:
Harry’s least favorite class was Potions.
Bingo! Clear and concise. Let’s use the method to try another one of our examples.
Adrian was mourned by Rocky and Pauley, until Pauley died too.
This sentence really emphasizes that Rocky and Pauley are mourning Adrian, so we move them into the subject position. Our new sentence reads:
Rocky and Pauley mourned Adrian, until Pauley died too.
This sentence is clear, and even needs fewer words to convey its meaning. Here’s another example of using the method:
Mrs. Which is best played by Oprah in A Wrinkle in Time.
We will need to do a little more than just move Oprah into the subject position since “best played” is an odd phrase. This is one sentence where adding content can help the sentence be clearer. Here’s a good change:
Oprah gives the best performance of Mrs. Which in A Wrinkle in Time.
We’ve used the Simple Arrow Method to make the sentence active, and also cleared up the language to make this even stronger.
Whenever you face a sentence written in the passive voice, remember to NAME IT, WEIGH IT, and CHANGE IT (using the Simple Arrow Method). You’ll get the better of SHSAT writers by following the tools you know to win the game!