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Verbs: Voice and Mood

Summary:

This handout will explain the difference between active and passive voice in writing. It gives examples of both, and shows how to turn a passive sentence into an active one. Also, it explains how to decide when to choose passive voice instead of active.

Active and Passive Voice

Verbs in the active voice show the subject acting. Verbs in the passive voice show something else acting on the subject. Most writers consider the active voice more forceful and tend to stay away from passives unless they really need them.

ACTIVE: Tim killed the chicken hawk.

PASSIVE: The chicken hawk was killed by Tim.

Check out our handout on active and passive verbs.

Indicative, Imperative, and Subjunctive Mood

Most verbs we use are in the indicative mood, which indicates a fact or opinion:

Examples:

  • He was here.
  • I am hungry.
  • She will bring her books.

Some verbs are in the imperative mood, which expresses commands or requests. Though it is not stated, the understood subject of imperative sentences is you.

Examples:

  • Be here at seven o'clock. (Understood: You be here at seven o'clock.)
  • Cook me an omelette. (Understood: You cook me an omelette.)
  • Bring your books with you. (Understood: You bring your books with you.)

When verbs show something contrary to fact, they are in the subjunctive mood.

When you express a wish or something that is not actually true, use the past tense or past perfect tense; when using the verb 'to be' in the subjunctive, always use were rather than was:

Examples:

  • If he were here... (Implied: ...but he's not.)
  • I wish I had something to eat. (Implied: ...but I don't.)
  • It would be better if you had brought your books with you. (Implied: ...but you haven't brought them.)

Review

INDICATIVE: I need some help.

IMPERATIVE: Help me!

SUBJUNCTIVE: If I were smart, I'd call for help.

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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.