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Test PrepSATWritingPassive Voice

SAT Writing Skill Review: Passive Voice

Although passive voice isn’t grammatically incorrect, it’s often stylistically unpleasant. Therefore, you can expect to encounter it on the Writing section of the SAT. Of course, it’s also important to avoid it in your own writing.

Passive voice consists of a to be verb (is, be, am, are, was, were, been, being) and a past participle (such as stolen, pushed, or enjoyed). The subject of the passive voice verb is receiving the action rather than doing the action. For example:

The play was enjoyed by the audience.

Although play is the subject, the object of the preposition (audience) is actually doing the enjoying. The sentence would sound much better if it were active: The audience enjoyed the play. Not all past participles indicate passive voice, however. For example:

I have listened to that CD all day long.

The above example is not in passive voice. Although there are some cases in which passive voice is acceptable, use active voice whenever possible.

Key Note: Passive voice is only tested in Improve the Sentence questions. It does not show up in Error ID questions.


Try this practice question:

  1. The letter is written by Sir Andrew and Sir Toby as a trick to make a fool of Malvolio.

(A)  The letter is written by Sir Andrew and Sir Toby
(B)  Sir Andrew and Sir Toby write the letter
(C)  The letter, which is written by Sir Andrew and Sir Toby,
(D)  The letter having been written by Sir Andrew and Sir Toby
(E)  Sir Andrew and Sir Toby are the authors of the letter used

Answer and Explanation

  1. The correct answer is B. Choice B is best, because the subjects (Sir Andrew and Sir Toby) do the action (write). In other words, the sentence is in active voice rather than passive voice. While E is also active voice, it’s wordy. Remember, on the SAT there may be more than one grammatically correct answer, but you’re looking for the best one. Stay away from wordiness. Indeed, this bit of advice can be used as a guide when narrowing down your remaining choices; just select the least wordy (shortest) of the options left!

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