What is Active and Passive Voice?

Active and Passive voice is a term used in writing to describe the ways in which a writer uses verbs in their sentences. There can be a lot of confusion around the two, as well as a lot of debate regarding whether or not the writer should utilise passive voice.

Passive voice is one of those aspects of writing you are told to avoid, however, the majority of the time we don’t even know we are using it.

So, let’s break down what each voice entails with examples:

Active voice refers to a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. Passive voice refers to a sentence where the subject is acted upon by the verb.

Now, this sounds pretty confusing, right? Let’s break that down a little more.

Active voice is where the subject of the sentence (e.g. person) is doing the action.
Passive voice is where the subject of the sentence (e.g. person) is not doing the action, rather, they are being acted upon.

Let’s check out some examples to break it down even further.

Active voice: France beat Brazil in the finals.
Passive voice: Brazil was beaten in the finals.

Active voice: More than 300 million people speak Spanish.
Passive voice: Spanish is spoken by more than 300 million people worldwide.

Active voice: Jack will take the matter further.
Passive voice: The matter will be taken further by Jack.

While there is no rule that you can’t use passive voice, it does have negative effects on your writing and is frowned upon by other writers. Passive voice has the problem of being slightly confusing as it appears to be vague regarding who is doing the ‘action.’ Other problems with passive voice are that it can come across too wordy, weak, and sometimes even awkward.

Active voice, on the other hand, is encouraged in your writing. It is more direct and specific and can make your writing a lot stronger. However, use it based on your judgement. If you try to change a passive sentence to an active one and it doesn’t sound right, then there are instances where you can break the rule.

Now that you know what passive voice looks like, it won’t be hard to identify it in your work. That being said, there are a few things you can look out for to help you as you prepare for the editing process:
Look for some form of the verb “to be” (such as is, are, was, were, has been), usually in front of another verb.
You may also see the preposition “by” when you are in passive voice.

Once you have identified the passive sentence, it’s time to change it to active voice. To do this, all you have to do is place the subject doing the action (e.g. person) before the verb instead of after it.

Active Voice: The company (subject) fired (verb) Mr. Jones in retaliation for his wife filing a discrimination claim.

Passive Voice: Mr. Jones was fired (fired) by the company (subject) in retaliation for his wife filing a discrimination claim.

Congrats, fellow writers. I hope you now understand the difference between active and passive voice!


Author: Dennis Hickey

There are no limits to success to those who never stop learning. Learning will nourish your personal growth. I hope you enjoy this website and visit often so you keep learning and growing too!

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