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Literary Devices III

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A library

Before, you have learned numerous literary devices, juxtaposition, accumulation, imagery, allusion, Deux Ex Machina, and irony. Section III will help you learn the active and passive voice.

Active Voice

The active voice is the use of a verb by the subject of a sentence to act direct onto the sentence’s object. The form of the verb used here is usually transitive, but the form can also be intransitive. Transitive means that the action has an object on which it works. So, intransitive means that the action does not need and have an object.

An example is ‘I eat hot dogs.’ This sentence uses eat as a transitive verb in the active voice. The verb is transitive because it acts on an object, hot dogs. It is in the active voice because the subject is the one using the action on the object. Another example is ‘I ate.’ Here the verb ate (the past tense of eat), is technically the active voice. I used technically because the active voice involves acting on an object. But the primary definition of it, the active voice, is that the subject is doing the action. So, technically, the sentence is the active voice. But, since the verb does not act on something but merely states an action, the verb is intransitive.

Although you may not think it a literary device, writers use it like it is one. They use the active to be direct and command more attention. Take the sentence above, ‘I eat hot dogs.’ You can feel and picture the action. The action is forceful. Now, let’s switch it to the passive voice. ‘The hot dogs were eaten.’ The force of the sentence is gone. Before were the sentence to smash into your face, it would be a brick. Now, in the passive, where the sentence to smash into your face, it would splash and be water. In other words, the sentence has lost near all meaning. The fear of losing this meaning is mainly why writers use the active voice more than the passive.

Passive Voice

The passive voice is the use of a verb to act on the subject. In the passive, no one does the action, the action just occurs. Only the transitive verb can work in the passive because a transitive verb can act on something. Verbs that are only intransitive cannot act on anything. Since in the passive the verb must act on the subject, an intransitive verb then cannot be passive.

An example of the passive is ‘The house was burnt.’ There is no doer of the action. And the subject experienced the action, making the sentence passive. You can indicate the doer of the action using by. An example is ‘The house was burnt by a drunk.’ But the main point is that the object of the action should be the subject.

Rarely do writers use this voice because it is not direct and powerful. Writers only use it when they either are keeping the doer of the action a mystery or are clueless of the doer, such as in unsolved crimes. Even in these cases, there are various sentence structures possible to keep the verb in the active voice.

These literary devices may not have seemed like literary devices to you before, but now you see them differently. You can then better understand them and improve your writing.

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