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Humanities Libertexts

17.1: Voice

Languages have different levels of formality that vary with the purpose, the audience, and the situation.

Informal voice or first person, is much more relaxed. In informal voice, slang is often used. In many instances, the writer’s opinion is evident. “Voice” can be defined as “how the writer’s personality and attitude toward the topic are revealed to the audience.” Voice, in this definition, is what makes one writer sound different from another.

Formal voice or third person, is professional. Think Newsweek rather than People magazine. This “voice” is more formal than spoken English and the writer usually only uses first person in quotes. Often, outside sources are used to prove points.

Active and Passive Voice

In the active voice, the subject performs the action. A clause with an active, transitive verb will be in the form of subject-verb-object.
Example: The student finished the exercise.

In the passive voice, the subject receives the action. For a passive verb, the tense and subject-verb agreement are always shown through the auxiliary verb “to be.”
Example: The exercise was finished by the student.

Active Voice Passive Voice
The teacher referred to “voice” as a grammatical term. “Voice” was referred to as a grammatical term by the teacher.
The man yelled at the waiter. The waiter was yelled at by the man.
Millions of people lived in the houses. The houses were lived in by millions of people.

Uses of “That”

That in the English language serves four different syntactic functions.

  1. Demonstrative determiner
    Example: That house is for sale.
  2. Demonstrative pronoun
    Example: That is my car.
  3. Demonstrative pronoun functioning as a noun
    Example: That works for me.
  4. Relative pronoun
    Example: The book that I read was interesting.

Using “A” and “An”

Determining which word to use, either a or an, is based on the first sound of the word that follows it. When a word starts with a consonant sound, use a before it. When the word begins with a vowel sound, use an before it. Be careful; sometimes the first letter of the word is not the first sound of the word (see hour and unicorn below).

Example \(\PageIndex{1}\):

  • a show
  • an amazing show
  • an octopus
  • a huge octopus
  • an hour (the h is silent)
  • a house
  • an apple
  • a red apple
  • a unicorn (unicorn begins with a ‘y’ sound)
  • an angry unicorn 
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