Active & Passive Voice

-Kate Brodsky-

So, you’re here to learn about passive and active voice. Or, maybe the difference between active and passive voice is going to be learned by you?

What is the difference between active and passive voice?

In the active voice, the performer of the action comes first, and the receiver of the action comes second. In the passive voice, this is swapped, so the receiver is first and the performer is second. For example:

The dog ate my homework.

My homework was eaten by the dog.

In the first sentence we have the dog, or the performer of the action, first. The receiver is second, and the sentence lets us know the dog has a purpose and the sentence is direct. In the second sentence, we have the passive voice. Here, the receiver is first, making the sentence sound more passive.

Here is an easy way to remember how the sentence structure changes,

Active: X Verbs Y

Passive: Y Is Verbed by X

Where X is the performer, and Y is the receiver.


Why choose one over the other?

Active voice is often more concise and the meaning is often easier to understand. This is the reason you hear it more in casual speech and writing. “I filled out the resume” is much more logical than “the resume was filled out by me.” Because of the concise and easy to understand nature of the active voice sentence, it sounds stronger and is generally considered better writing.

Passive voice is often avoided in writing because it sounds less reliable. Passive voice can often lend a tone of “Oh, we couldn’t avoid it, it just sort of happened” to the sentence.

Passive voice does have its advantages, however. It is useful when the performer of the action is not known, or when you are intentionally trying to keep it ambiguous. For example:

“We didn’t know if the throne had been overthrown by the younger prince,”

because if you say

“We didn’t know if the younger prince overthrew the throne,”

it could sound more accusatory. It can also be good if you want to emphasize the thing that is being acted upon. For example, if you wanted to emphasize the sadness you felt at the downfall of your beloved blueberries, you might say: “My blueberries were eaten by the rabbits!”It can also be good for just varying your sentence structure. It could be better to have your story read,

The blueberries had been attacked by the cold weather already. I couldn’t believe that the rabbits would eat my berries!

than have it read,

The cold weather had already attacked my blueberries. I couldn’t believe that the rabbits would eat my blueberries!

because it sounds repetitive, and no writer likes that.

So what should you look out for when writing?

Try not to only use the same sentence structure when writing. There are many ways to vary your sentence structure when writing, so I would not recommend only having active and passive voices used in your work. In general, pay attention to passive voice, only use it when it makes sense, and especially make sure to not overuse it.


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