There are two ways to speak in English, two voices: doing and done to.
In the doing voice, the top (subject) of the sentence does something. In the done to voice, the top has something done to it. For example: "Charlie Brown never kicks the football." That's the doing voice or, in this case, the trying to do. "The football is never kicked by Charlie Brown (thanks to Lucy)." That's the done to voice. The football has something done to it or, in this case, not, but it certainly isn't doing anything.
When you're writing, the general rule is, it's better to do than to be done to, which is also not a bad way to live.
Decide whether the top is doing something or having something done to it. If it's getting done to, change it so that it's doing the doing.
1. The potatoes are only slightly cleaned by the Army chef before they're cooked.
2. Seventeen sea gulls were spotted doing a line dance on the dock by Cousin Ralphie.
3. The car was left running by the motorist who took off on foot.
4. Surveys of outlying galaxies are taken periodically by Fomp.
1. The Army chef only slightly cleans potatoes before cooking them. (Join the Navy.)
2. Cousin Ralphie spotted 17 sea gulls doing a line dance on the dock. (You can't believe a word he says. It was actually 16 puffins and they were doing the fox trot.)
3. The motorist left the car running on the highway and took off on foot. (Rather impulsive, wouldn't you say?)
4. Fomp periodically takes surveys of outlying galaxies. (He likes to ask inhabitants, "Do you come here often?")
Ellie Grossman is the author of "The Grammatically Correct Handbook." Visit her at www.thegrammarguru.com.