AP English Language

Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High


Comprehensive Review—Analysis

Voice: Pen, Paper, Action!


Writing is a living process. Good writing moves the reader clearly from point to point. Voice and pacing play a major role in this process. Subjects are responsible for their actions. In the context of rhetorical analysis, the first type of voice is that “picture” of yourself as a writer that you consciously try to create for your reader. Just how do you want your reader to “see” and “hear” you: as confident, mature, knowledgeable, witty, reverent, friendly, caring, audacious …? What? This first type of voice is the result of all of the elements that make up style.

And, one of those components is the second type of voice. This type of voice refers to active or passive voice, which simply is the relationship between the subject and its verb. Almost every instructor or writer who teaches says one thing—“Use ACTIVE voice.”


To answer this question, look at the following sentences:

The ball was thrown by Jessica.

1. What is the subject? images

2. What is the verb tense? images

3. Is the verb simple or compound?images

4. What is the prepositional phrase?images

5. How many words are in the sentence?images

Jessica threw the ball.

1. What is the subject?images

2. What is the verb tense?images

3. Is the verb simple or compound?images

4. Is there a prepositional phrase?images

5. How many words are in the sentence?images

Which of the two sentences has the subject of the sentence doing the action? ___

Which one has the subject being acted upon? ___


When the writing lets the reader know that the subject is doing the acting, you have ACTIVE VOICE. When the subject is acted upon or is the goal of the action, and, therefore, NOT responsible, you have PASSIVE VOICE.

With this information, now identify which of the two sentences above is active and which one is passive. Without doubt, we know you chose the second as active and the first as passive. Good for you.

Here’s another example:

The treaty was signed last night.

Who signed the treaty? Whom do we blame if the treaty fails? We don’t know, do we? Passive voice avoids responsibility. It is a primary tool of those who want to obfuscate or of those who lack confidence and decisiveness. Why not give the true picture and write:

Last night, the President of the United States and the President of Mexico signed a mutual defense treaty.

Here’s a practice activity for you.

The huge red building was entered at the sound of the bell. Instructions were yelled at us by a mean-looking old ladyA crowd of six-year-olds was followed down a long hallway, up some steps, and down another corridor by me clutching my lunchbox. Mrs. Nearing’s room was looked for. Our destination was reached when we were loudly greeted by a tall, black-haired woman. A tag was pressed to my chest after my name was asked and a tag was printed by her. Several big six-year-olds could be seen inside the room by me. The door was closed with a loud bang. The glass near the top of the door was kept from shattering by a network of wires. The wires were observed to be prison-like. So, back in school was I.

You should have noticed that every sentence is written in the passive voice. Awkward and tedious, isn’t it? Now, it’s your turn. Rewrite this passage by simply changing all of the passive constructions into active voice.

Compare Your Revision with Ours

At the sound of the bell, I entered the huge, red building with hundreds of other kids. Just inside the entrance, a mean-looking old lady yelled instructions at us. I clutched my lunchbox and followed a crowd of other six-year-olds down a long hallway, up some steps, and down another corridor as we looked for Mrs. Nearing’s room. I knew we had reached our destination when a tall, black-haired woman loudly greeted us. She asked me my name, then she printed it on a sticky tag and pressed it to my chest. Once inside the room, I could see several other kids my age, some of them BIG. Finally, Mrs. Nearing closed the door with a loud bang. A network of wires kept the glass near the top of the door from shattering. These wires looked like the bars of a prison to me. I was back in school.

Have you noticed that many sentences written in passive voice contain a prepositional phrase beginning with by? That by-phrase immediately following the verb (usually compound) can be a clue that you have passive voice at work in the sentence. GET RID OF IT, if you can.

Note: There are times when you deliberately want to use passive voice, but it should be a very conscious choice on your part. Here are four questions to ask yourself.

• Do you want to avoid stating who/what is responsible for an action?

• Is there a specific goal or effect that you wish to emphasize?

• Do you want to create a “special effect”?

• Do you want to sound “academic” and avoid using the dreaded “first person” responsibility?

• If you can answer a loud “yes” to any or all of these questions, then you may decide to employ passive voice.

Let’s hear your voice—loud and clear! Take responsibility for what you think, say, and write. This is your voice. It is the real you. Give it life. Don’t suffocate it.


Pacing is the “movement” of a literary piece from one point to another. The primary component of pacing is syntax: sentence length, sentence type, and punctuation. There are several ways to add variety and pacing to your writing by:

• using a mixture of sentence types, known as sentence variety;

• using the rhetorical question;

• using the imperative sentence;

• using the exclamatory sentence; and

• varying the beginnings of sentences.

For example, if you were to compose a brief paragraph about writing an AP English Language and Composition essay, you could write:

I like to write essays for AP Comp class. I like to think through an idea, and I like to try out different approaches to discussing an idea. My AP teacher gives us lots of time to prepare our essays. He gives us a topic. Then, he has us do an outline and then a first draft. We have our first draft read by a member of our peer group. I do my revision after this. I also read my essay aloud to someone. Then, I’m ready to hand it in to my instructor for grading.

Note that all the sentences begin with subject and verb. All the sentences, except for the second one, are simple. The second is no more than a compound sentence made up of two very simple main clauses. Do you feel the tediousness and immaturity of this paragraph? There is nothinggrammatically wrong with any of the sentences. However, would you be happy with this paragraph if you had written it? Something is missing, and that something has to do with pacing.

Rewrite this paragraph so that there is a variety of sentences and sentence beginnings. How does your revision compare with ours?

Because I like to think through ideas and try different approaches to presenting an idea, I really enjoy my AP Comp class. Another reason for my enjoying writing essays is my AP teacher’s approach to composition. For him and, therefore, for us, writing is not a quick, hit-or-miss assignment. After we choose a topic, Mr. Damon allows plenty of time for preparation, which includes outlining, writing the first draft, and reading by our peer groups. It is only after completing these steps that I revise and write the final draft I will submit for grading. It’s a good plan.