Active vs Passive Voice


Using active or passive voice in the construction of sentences is a characteristic that makes the English language distinct. Whether writing for formal speeches or delivering conversational messages, these two voices are often used to convey a message.

However, the proper use of these voices sometimes confuse many writers. It creates a dilemma that might be difficult to solve, especially if you lack the know-hows. In this article, we are going to differentiate active voice from passive voice. We are also going to discuss when you should use them, and why you should use each.

Active Voice and Passive Voice

Before differentiating the two, we need to identify the components that are crucial in the construction of sentences. The first component is the subject. The subject performs the action. It serves as the primary character of the sentence. The next component is the verb. The verb is the action that the subject is doing.

To further understand what subjects and verbs are, we have to take a look at some examples.

The bird is flying in the air.

In the sentence, the bird acts as the subject while flying is the verb.

Jomar sent another proposal to his client.

In the sentence, Jomar acts as the subject who does the verb, sent.

After identifying the main components of the sentence, you have to examine the relationship between the subject and the verb. You have to gauge whether the subject performs the action, or it is being performed by something else. This is where active and passive voice come in.

Fundamentally speaking, the active voice highlights the subject that performs the verb. This type of voice is apparent when the subject goes first, followed by the verb. The passive voice, on the other hand, gives emphasis to the verb or the recipient of the verb, rather than the subject. Usually, the verb comes first followed by the subject.

To further understand the difference between the two, we try to look at several examples of passive and active voice.

Example 1

Active voice: The student receives his certificate.

Passive voice: The certificate is received by the student.

In the example above, we can clearly gauge the difference between the active and the passive voice. For the active voice, we can identify that the student is the subject that does the receiving of the certificate. The passive voice, on the other hand, focuses on the certificate rather than the subject.

If we try to analyze the sentences more, we can also see that the active voice is more concise and more direct than the passive voice.

Let us take a look at another example and try to study it.


Example 2

Active voice: The teacher demonstrated the lesson in such a way that the students understood.

Passive voice: The lesson was demonstrated by the teacher in such a way that the students understood.

The sentences above are more complex than the examples given earlier, but it is still relatively easy to spot which among them is in active voice and passive voice. In the first sentence, the teacher is highlighted. It was also clear that the verb used was demonstrated. In the second sentence, the lesson – or the object of the sentence – is given importance. The teacher, who serves as the subject, was only stated after the verb has been stated.

There are instances when the subject cannot be identified, hence the use of passive voice is more proper. Let us take a look at this example.

Example 3

Passive voice: The flash drive was retrieved yesterday.

Active voice: Someone retrieved the flash drive yesterday.

In this sentence, we can feel a sense of mystery since it was not stated who retrieved the flash drive. If a subject is not identified, then the passive voice may be used. We cannot just say someone as the subject.

But this is not the only instance when the passive voice can be used.

Example 4

Passive voice: The bags were delivered late.

Active voice: You delivered the bags late.

In the example above, you may want to be discreet by not naming the subject of the sentence. Hence, you could use passive voice. Using active voice on the sentence only shatters your tactfulness.

Example 5

Passive voice: Her proposal has been rejected by the client because of lack of expertise.

Active voice: The client rejected her proposal because of lack of expertise.

You could also use the passive voice – like the example above – when you want to highlight the action rather than the subject. Since the term rejected is more powerful than that of the client, it should be given more emphasis.

Example 6

Passive voice: The papers should be given not later than Thursday night.

Active voice: You should give the papers not later than Thursday night.

In certain instances, you could use passive voice when you want to create a tone with authority. In the sentence above, using the active voice would just make it less authoritative.

Why Use the Active Voice

While there are many instances where passive voice is used, many writers prefer active voice rather than the passive voice because with active voice the subject of the sentence is clear. With the use of active voice when writing, your output becomes more concise and straightforward rather than all over the place. This makes your essay much easier to understand and comprehend.

In other cases, using active voice will also add impact to your sentences. Since they are shorter, your sentences become sharper and clearer, giving readers the chance to visualize what is really happening.

Example 7

Active voice: The bamboo waved as the breeze blew softly.

In the sentence above, you create a vivid image, making readers understand you better. When the sentence becomes passive, the whole imagery of the sentence becomes a blur.

In addition to this, using active voice would keep your readers interested with what they are reading. Since your output is short, they are lead to believe that they will gain more information rather than those unclear ones.


In writing essays, it is important that you pay attention to the voice and one of your sentences. Doing so could help you improve your performance as a writer. In addition to this, your output becomes much easier to understand, attracting more readers along the way.


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