The use of passive and active voice holds a clear difference in the English language, and it is something that may confuse most writers, including Native English.
Passive voice was prominent in academic or scientific writing throughout the twentieth century. However, this has significantly changed, and today, many writers prefer using active voice to be more concise and clear. Even students at several American schools are taught to avoid passive voice because it makes the writing weak.
Making a choice between passive and active voice entirely depends on the conventions of the discipline in which you are writing and the ideas you are trying to convey. For some writing, the passive voice can be a more sophisticated and appropriate choice than the active voice. But, in most situations, an active voice is a better option as it makes the sentence stronger and more easy to understand.
In this article, we will understand the clear difference between active and passive voice and when to use it.
Difference Between Active and Passive Voice
What is Active Voice?
The active voice is one of the most familiar voices used in English writing. This voice describes the subject of a sentence performing the action. Sentences in active voice have a direct, strong, and clear tone. Here are some of the common examples of active voice used in a sentence:
- He is running a marathon
- I wrote a book
- She ate the cake
In all three sentences mentioned above, you will notice that the main subject of the sentence is describing an action like writing, running, and waiting. Additionally, you will also see that the verb is happening to the object of every sentence. Another simplified example of an active voice is Nike’s famous slogan – “Just Do It.”
What is Passive Voice?
Passive voice is not that common, although many students accidentally insert it into their essays. This voice is used when, in a sentence, we want to put more stress on the action instead of emphasizing the subject. In addition, passive voice can be used when discussing the universal truth or fact. Here are some passive voice examples used in a sentence:
- The squirrel was chased by the dog
- The cake was eaten by the girls
- The book was written by him
You will notice that the above examples include the word “was.” It is used to form a sentence with a passive voice. So, you use words like “was chased,” “was eaten,” “was written.” You can also use the words “to be” with the past participle to form a passive voice. Overall, you will observe that passive voice sentences are unnecessarily clunky and wordy, making it more difficult to understand.
How to Remember the Difference?
In general, active voice is mainly used for day to day writing purposes to make the sentence more direct, simple, and easy to understand. Whereas, we primarily use the passive voice in stylistic writing or legal writing.
When to Use Active and Passive Voice?
We all know that the active voice carries a clearer and stronger tone, and the passive voice is more subtle and weak. Therefore, make sure to never use the passive voice just because it sounds fancier than the active voice.
However, there are instances when passive voice is required in a sentence. We can take the example of the sentence mentioned above – “the squirrel was chased by the dog.” This passive voice sentence structure would be helpful if the focus of your writing is the squirrel instead of the dog.
As a rule of thumb, you should try using an active voice in the majority of your sentences, except when there is no other way to form a sentence.
Changing Passive Voice Sentence to Active Voice
You can easily change passive voice sentences to active voice by following the points and examples given below:
Change the word order
Example (from passive): The file was sent by the manager.
Example (to active): The manager sent the file.
Substituting a passive verb with an active verb
Example (from Passive): The river water is sent into the pipes.
Example (to active): The river water flows into the pipes.
Adding a ‘subject’ for the verb
Example (from passive): The procedure was ruled out.
Example (to active): The manager ruled out the procedure.
Tips for Active and Passive Writing
Trim Down the Words
It’s important to keep in mind that using extra words in a sentence makes reading difficult. You should avoid it, especially when creating content for your valuable as well as potential customers. You can use an active voice whenever possible, to make the sentence more clear and concise.
Apply SAT (Subject, Action, and Target)
Before completing an article or post, good writers always make sure that there are no issues with it. Also, at the final polishing stage of writing, you can keep SAT (Subject, Action, and Target) in mind, and make changes to the article, accordingly.
Insert Zombies to Fight Passive Voice
If you are not entirely sure whether a sentence is in a passive or active voice, try inserting “by zombies” just after the verb at the end of the sentence. With this addition, if the sentence makes sense to you, then it means it’s a passive sentence. On the contrary, if the sentence does not make any sense, it means you are on the right track, and you have got an active sentence.
You will find both active and passive voice everywhere — all you need to do is look for it and pay attention, especially when reading, watching TV, or listening to the radio. Try to spot the difference between passive and active voice and try to tell why each voice was inserted in a particular sentence. This will help you to differentiate between the two voices clearly and make your writing more concise and easy to understand.
Always remember, excellent writing should not only flow seamlessly and be clear and distinct, but it should also be free from confusingly long sentences and unnecessary words.