Grammar Gossip

Active vs. Passive Voice




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There you have it, an example of Active and Passive Voice. Can you tell the difference between these two sentences?

If you still don’t get it, here are the actual definitions:

What is active voice?

Sentences with an action verb, the subject performs the action denoted by the verb.

What is passive voice?

Well, you can change the normal word order of many active sentences (those with a direct object) so that the subject is no longer active, but is, instead, being acted upon by the verb – or passive.


But in what situations should we use passive voice instead of active voice?

Well, there are 6 of them:

  1. The actor is unknown:
    The old architecture in Rome was built during the Early Age. [We don’t know who made them.]
  2. The actor is irrelevant:
    The windmill will be built in the Australian desert. [We are not interested in who is building it.]
  3. You want to be vague about who is responsible:
    Mistakes were made. [Common in bureaucratic writing!]
  4. You are talking about a general truth:
    Laws are made to be broken. [By whomever, whenever.]
  5. You want to emphasize the person or thing acted on. For example, it may be your main topic:
    Insulin was first discovered in 1921 by researchers at the University of Toronto. It is still the only treatment available for diabetes.
  6. You are writing in a scientific genre that traditionally relies on passive voice. Passive voice is often preferred in lab reports and scientific research papers, most notably in the Materials and Methods section:
    The sodium hydroxide was dissolved in water. This solution was then titrated with hydrochloric acid.

Mhmm, what about using active voice over passive voice?

Having too many passive voice sentences can sometimes make it harder to understand and comprehend your writing.

Active Voice: 


Both active and passive voice are grammatically correct. You can pick either one! But keep in mind, there are occasions where passive voice is better than active voice and vice versa. Pay attention to the intentions/purposes of the sentences and the overall picture. Although active voice sentences might be clearer to understand, passive voice has its own benefits that can sometimes fit better and is more appropriate than active voice.

Works Cited:

Crocker, Joel. “Passive Voice: When to Use It and When to Avoid It.” Passive Voice: When to Use It and When to Avoid It. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

“Welcome to the Purdue OWL.” Purdue OWL: Active and Passive Voice. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

@epbure. “Active vs. Passive Voice: The Complete Guide – The Write Practice.” The Write Practice RSS. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.