Four: Style andTone
you write your essay, remember to focus on verbs and keep
adjectives to a minimum. Pumping your sentences full of
adjectives and adverbs is not the same thing as adding detail
or color. Adjectives and adverbs add lazy description, but
verbs add action.
editors find that one of the greatest weaknesses of admissions
essays is their frequent use of the passive tense. For this
mini-lesson you will learn why the passive voice should
be avoided, how to identify it, and how to replace it with
the preferred active voice.
of the passive voice throughout an essay can make your prose
seem flat and uninteresting. Sentences in active voice are
also more concise than those in passive voice. You can recognize
passive-voice expressions because the verb phrase will always
include a form of to be, such as am, is,
was, were, are, or been. The
presence of a be-verb, however, does not necessarily
mean that the sentence is in passive voice. In sentences
written in passive voice, the subject receives the action
expressed in the verb; the subject is acted upon. In sentences
written in active voice, the subject performs the action
expressed in the verb; the subject acts.
I was selected to be the tuba player by the band leader.
(Active) The bandleader selected me to be the tuba player.
I will be prepared for college as a result of the lessons
my mother taught me.
(Active) My mother taught me lessons that will
prepare me for college
I am reminded of her voice every time I hear that song.
(Active) That song reminds me of her voice.
#4: STRONG VERBS vs. WEAK VERBS
in the blanks using the most descriptive or active verb
After working closely with my mentor, I __________ advanced
techniques in oil painting.
was beginning to master
began to master
My newspaper article on the labor strikes __________
both praise and criticism.
was the recipient of
Once I joined the debate team, I __________ the opportunity
to compete every weekend.
was exposed to
Samuel’s touchdown __________ the stadium crowd.
created much energy in
Woolf’s essay __________ my opinion of gender inequality.
made me take another look at
was challenging to
As Jessica drew near me, I __________ the baton and
took off running.
Once my mother had fallen asleep, I __________ the dolls
on her nightstand.
Chris and I __________ an educational project for first-graders
in our community.
"Why didn’t you ask me before throwing it away?" Jason
started to yell
Mr. Franklin __________ that he was our true father.
let us know
2) a; 3) a; 4) b; 5) a; 6) a; 7) b; 8) c; 9) a; 10) c;
Passive Voice to Active Voice
want to change a passive-voice sentence to active voice,
find the agent in the phrase, the person or thing that is
performing the action expressed in the verb. Make that agent
the subject of the sentence, and change the verb accordingly.
For many instances of the passive voice in your essay, you
can follow these steps:
Do a global search for the words "was" and then "were."
These words often indicate the passive voice.
Cross out the "was" or the "were."
Add -ed to the verb that follows "was" or "were."
If that changed verb does not make grammatical sense,
it is an irregular verb, so change it to the simple
Rewrite the sentence around the new active-voice verb.
#5: MAKING SENTENCES MORE ACTIVE
these sentences from passive voice to active voice, or note
if no change should be made.
I was taught by my brother the principles of barbecuing.
My father was given the title by the former head chief.
The house was wrecked by the party and the cat was let
loose by the guests.
The house is a mess, the cat is lost, and the car has
been stolen by Justin.
Unfortunately, my plan was ruined by Gerald, the building
The roof was leaking. It had been leaking all week.
The ball was thrown by Lucy, who had been hiding in
Francesca was placed on the first flight to Boston.
Her father put her there.
"To be or not to be?" That is the question.
A feast had been created from nothing. I was astounded.
My brother taught me the principles of barbecuing.
The former head chief gave the title to my father.
The party wrecked the house and the guests let the cat
The house is a mess, the cat is lost, and Justin has
stolen the car.
Unfortunately, Gerald, the building superintendent,
ruined my plan.
Lucy, who had been hiding in the bushes, threw the ball.
Francesca’s father placed her on the first flight to
A feast had been created from nothing. This astounded
#6: PASSIVE-FREE WRITING
a 100-word essay on anything at all (preferably relating
to your essay topic) without using any form of the verb