In a country known for its collective thought, the individual is rarely brought into the spotlight.

(Taken from a CNN article).

This is a sentence I would want to convert it from passive to active. I have no clue how to do this. (I do know how passive and active voices work).

Any help?

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    It would help if you could explain why you want to convert to active voice. One of the advantages of passive voice is it can be used in contexts where the writer doesn't want and/or is unable to specify who exactly the "agent" is (you can't do that in an active voice construction, which structurally requires the agent to be specified as the subject of the verb). So you'd have to ask yourself who does the "knowing", and/or who "brings individuals into the spotlight". Very likely these are two different subjects (the former outside the country, the latter inside it). Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:16
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    ...in short, you need to tell us what you want to say, rather than idly selecting a bit of text and trying to impose some arbitrary "reformulation" principle on the syntax without regard to intended meaning. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:18
  • @FumbleFingers my real real reason is a homework. I'm trying to convert some sentences and this I didn't succeed. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:20
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    If you're stuck with a teacher who thinks converting the above text from passive to active is a useful exercise, you have my deepest sympathy. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:21
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    Choose a different article (or at least a different sentence within your article). Avoid choosing one where the identify of the unstated "agent/subject" isn't reasonably obvious. And definitely avoid trying to convert text involving two different passive constructions, but which doesn't make much sense if you assume it's the same unstated subject in both cases (as in your example). Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 16:30

2 Answers 2


Without going into grammatical issues such as what "known" is, whether it is in the passive voice or not, whether it is a verb or an adjective, and such, and without caring about the risk of information loss or change due to the difference in information delivery, which is the whole point of the passive voice, you can rewrite the sentence with know like this:

The individual is rarely brought into the spotlight in a country that/which people/we know for its collective thought.

(You may also find this good answer on relative clauses and pied-piping useful.)

  • Thanks. That was my point. Actually in this specific case it doesn't matter if I loss information. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:24
  • Isn't there a way to don't loose information and to convert "X is known for..." to active? Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:26
  • Thank you for accepting my answer, though it's recommended on our site to wait for a while (before accepting an answer so that you can have more chances others will weigh in with their thoughts). I wrote up this answer before you mentioned the word "homework". Homework questions are not encouraged for many reason. (Though it's not necessarily off-topic.) I wrote this answer to share some thoughts on the passive voice exercises, and some hints on some grammar points that may arise (e.g., "Is this sentence really in the passive voice?") Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:28
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    When I ask a native speaker whether they've learned or they have to do this kind of exercise or not in their school days, the answer is invariably "no". -- I know that the transformation as a mechanic may be useful for learners (and I admit that they have to know it), but sometimes it goes out of proportion (to the point that the teacher may give their students such exercises just for the sake of it), and usually the teacher misses one main point, which is the "why" part: why or when we use the passive voice. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:36
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    What @Damkerng T. said. Note that the cited example has two passives, but this answer only recasts one of them. If we assume the "agent" is the same in both cases, we could recast as People rarely bring the individual into the spotlight in a country which they know for its collective thought. But that's highly problematic to me at the semantic level, and simply underlines the fact that we probably can't assume the same agent for both. And it might be very difficult to even identify who the two agents should be, let alone convey that information reasonably succinctly. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 16:22

I will show what process I would use to make your example sentence less passive. Your example sentence is:

In a country known for its collective thought, the individual is rarely brought into the spotlight,

First, to identify a passive sentence, look for any verbs or actions and see if you can determine who is performing them. Passive voice in a sentence often reveals itself when you can't identify who is performing those actions. In your example sentence, I would ask myself: Who knows about the "collective thought the country has" and who "rarely brings the individual into the spotlight?".

Once I notice the lack of actors for those two actions, I can make the sentence less passive by including the missing information. In this case, I chose some arbitrary actors ('sociologists' and 'journalists' in this case). My re-write of the sentence inserts these actors into the sentence, and results in:

In a country known (by sociologists) for its collective thought, the individual is rarely brought (by journalists) into the spotlight.

This version of the sentence is no longer passive but to rewrite it in this way requires you to know who is performing the actions. You can use passive voice if you either don't know or don't care who the actors in your writing are. But if you do know, or your readers might care who the actors are, it is better to include that information.

This article on the passive voice from the University of Toronto shows some examples of when you might want to use passive voice sentences.

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