When we speak, we usually put emphasis on who performs an action and whom the action is performed upon and this brings us to the active and passive voices.
Your examiner would want you to demonstrate the ability to identify the voices as well as move from one voice to the other.
For a successful conversion, tense identification is of paramount importance since the tenses must be maintained. Equally important is the ability to identify the subject and the verb. Where the subject performs the action, the sentence is in the active voice and where the action is performed upon the subject it is in the passive voice. I have deliberately avoided mentioning the object, because for voice identification, the object is irrelevant.
The examiner almost always asks: “Re-write the following sentence starting with the underlined words”. As soon as you see this, you should know chances are, it is an active/passive voice question.
Also, your examiner almost always asks you to change from an active to passive voice. It matters whether the object is singular or plural.
Check this: Re-write the following sentence starting with the underlined words: (i) The teacher praised the boy. (ii) The teacher praised the boys. The answers would be (i) The boy was praised by the teacher. (ii) The boys were praised by the teacher.
The helping verb (was/were), ensures agreement with the subject to show number (singular or plural). By underlining the words in the original sentence, the examiner is, in other words, asking you to make them the subject of the sentence. Please note that the subject can be a pronoun or noun. It can be one word or many (this issue shall be dealt with at length when we look at The Subject Verb Agreement article next week).
However, for clarity purposes, in the following sentences, the underlined words form the subject: “The boys teased the girl with pimples”, which would be; “The girl with pimples was teased by the boys.”
In (i) and (ii) above, the teacher is the subject who performs the action of praising. This makes the teacher the agent. In everyday speech, however, we do not normally mention the agent when we speak in the passive voice. For example; “This school was built in 1997 (by the Chinese).” Or, “I was born in 1996 (by my mother).”
However, it has been discovered that your examiner will want you to mention the agent. Also, the given sentences do not sound offensive if the agent is mentioned. So please, for the purposes of your examination, include the agent (except with indefinite pronoun agents). In addition, the article used in the original sentence must be kept.
In (i), it is “the boy” and not “a boy”, hence the answer; “A boy was praised by the teacher” or “...by a teacher” would be wrong.
Study the following sentences in various tenses:
“I will see you tomorrow.” This would be; “You will be seen tomorrow.” Please be careful not to confuse the active/passive question with the direct and indirect speech conversion. This means that the pronoun “you” and adverb of time, “tomorrow”, MUST NOT BE CHANGED.
“He has drunk the juice” would be, “The juice has been drunk.” Remember not to confuse “been” and “being.”
The continuous tense usually confuses many candidates. Check this: “He was drinking some juice.” Since we have to maintain the tense, this would be; “Some juice was being drunk” and not “...been drunk.”
We also have tricky constructions like; “The boys had dinner.” This would change to; “Dinner was had.” It sounds funny but it is correct! We should also be watchful of sentences with two objects e.g. “Ndapewa gave Hilma some money.” Both “Hilma” and “some money” are objects and the examiner may underline either and these would be the answers: “Hilma was given some money” and “Some money was given (to) Hilma”, with “by Ndapewa” featuring at the end of both. Also remember that all indefinite pronouns are considered singular and this includes words like “everybody/everyone/somebody/someone/anyone.”
It must be borne in mind that in the grammar section, any mistake, be it grammatical or mechanical, would render the answer wrong even if the target aspect is correct. For example, as an answer to (ii), this would be wrong, owing to the wrong spelling: “The boys where praised by the teacher”, let alone the omission of the full stop. Remember to start each sentence with a capital letter and end it with a full stop.