active voice vs passive voice

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

August 11, 2023
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It’s often said that passive voice should be avoided. However, it can be argued that sometimes the passive voice is useful. That being said, using passive voice excessively can make your writing more difficult to read and understand.

Did you catch that ^that^ whole paragraph is written in passive voice? Put differently—more actively—it could read:

You should avoid passive voice. Some argue that passive voice is sometimes useful. That being said, when you use passive voice, your writing can be more difficult to read and understand.

Which feels more direct and clear?

In this article, you'll gain an understanding of the difference between passive voice and active voice through the use of examples. You'll also get tips on how to identify and correct passive voice in your writing, so you can communicate more concisely and effectively.

Understanding Passive Voice

Passive voice is a grammatical construction where the recipient—or object—of an action is made the subject of a sentence. In other words, the subject is acted upon by the verb.

Here are some examples of passive voice:

  • The cake was eaten by Jose.
  • The car was driven by Maria.
  • The novel was written by a famous author.

As you can see, passive voice can often make sentences seem vague or indirect because the doer of the action is either mentioned later in the sentence or omitted altogether.

Passive voice is often used in scientific or formal writing when the focus is more on the action being done rather than who is doing it.

Understanding Active Voice

In contrast, active voice is a sentence structure where the subject performs the action. A key thing to remember is that active voice typically follows the format: Subject-Verb-Object.

Here are some examples of active voice:

  • Jose ate the cake.
  • Maria drove the car.
  • A famous author wrote the novel.

Active voice creates clear, concise sentences where the subject is at the center of the action and performing an action to the object. 

It’s generally more engaging and easier to read because it's direct and straightforward. In everyday writing and communication, active voice is often the preferred choice.

Converting Passive Voice to Active Voice

To convert passive voice to active voice, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the action, the actor, and the recipient of the action in the sentence.
  2. Determine if the sentence is in passive voice or active voice by seeing if it follows the Subject-Verb-Object format, where the actor is performing an action to the recipient of the action. If it doesn’t, the sentence is in passive voice and should be rearranged.
  3. Rewrite the sentence in active voice by making the actor perform the action to the recipient of the action.

For example, let's convert this sentence from passive to active voice: The report was written by Amari.

  1. Action: was written; Actor: Amari; Recipient of the action: the report
  2. Passive voice identified: The actor, Amari, isn't mentioned until the end of the sentence, and therefore isn't positioned as the subject of the sentence.
  3. Active voice conversion: Amari wrote the report.

By making Amari the subject and having her perform the action, we have converted a passive sentence into an active one, making it more direct and engaging.

Benefits of Active Voice in Daily Life

Active voice can bring several benefits in daily life, especially when it comes to communication. The benefits of using active voice include the following:

Clearer, More Straightforward Communication

Active voice leads to clearer, more straightforward communication, reducing chances of misinterpretation. This can be particularly important in professional settings, where clear and effective communication is crucial.

Greater Engagement

Active voice also engages the reader or listener more effectively, which can help keep their attention in personal conversations or storytelling.

Increased Responsibility and Ownership

Additionally, active voice encourages responsibility and ownership, as it clearly attributes actions to people.

How to Get Better at Using Active Voice

Improving your use of active voice involves consistent practice and feedback. Start by reviewing your writing and identifying any instances of passive voice. Then, try converting them into active voice and notice the change in clarity and impact.

Reading widely, especially material known for good use of active voice, can also be beneficial.

Tools like Grammarly can also help you identify passive constructions and suggest active alternatives. And the Elevate app can help level up your vocabulary, writing, and speaking skills, which will also improve your ability to use active voice.

Remember, it's not about completely avoiding passive voice (it has its place!) but about being aware of your choices and their effect on your communication.

Start Improving Your Use of Active Voice Today

Starting today, make a conscious effort to use active voice in your writing and daily conversations. Be aware of when you're using passive voice and question whether it's the best choice for what you're trying to communicate.

Regular practice, along with feedback from others or using writing aids, will help you become proficient in using active voice. You can do that by downloading the award-winning Elevate brain training app on iOS or Android and getting started for free. With time, you'll find that your communication—whether in writing or speech—will become more direct, clear, and engaging.

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