The Lowdown on Active vs. Passive Voice

When you write for pleasure, you have complete autonomy over your style. Not only do you choose your own topic, but you also have total creative control over everything that ends up on the page. Once you start writing professionally or for school, you commit to a different kind of accountability.

For instance, if you write for a content writing service or a teacher, it is important to follow their style guide. Sometimes that means sacrificing a little piece of what you consider your “unique style.” This includes your current view on active vs. passive voice.

Why Choose Active Vs. Passive Voice in Writing?

If using passive voice has become a major part of your rhetorical strategy, there are several reasons to drop the habit. Active voice facilitates clear and concise communication. It is often much more engaging, and less pretentious than passive voice.

What Is Active Voice?

With active voice, the subject performs the action.

What Is Passive Voice?

With passive voice, the subject receives the action.

Active Vs. Passive Voice Examples

Here are some simple examples of passive vs. active voice:

Active: Chris passes Jason.
Passive: Jason is passed by Chris.

Active:  Peter received gifts from all of his guests.
Passive: Gifts were given by all of the guests.

How Do the ‘To Be’ Verbs Play Into Active Vs. Passive Voice?

Have you ever heard that a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not always a square? Or that all puppies are dogs, but not all dogs are puppies? It is the same with passive voice.

All passive voice sentences use “to be” verbs, but not all “to be” sentences are in passive voice. In the following active vs. passive voice examples, the “to be” verbs are highlighted in red.

Active: There were hundreds of kids running around.
Active: If you want to be a millionaire, start saving now.
Active: Sharon is running for president.

Passive: Your application must be completed by June 1st.
Passive: Connor will be hit by a car if he isn’t careful.
Passive: The apartments were cared for by a property management company.

Is Passive Voice Totally Off Limits?

Although seasoned writers usually prefer active voice, passive voice still has a place. For example, scientific writing often relies on passive voice to evoke a sense of subjectivity and authority. Also, passive voice allows a writer to emphasize the action rather than the actor. The key to writing with the right style is making deliberate choices.

Do You Prefer Active or Passive Voice in Writing?

In your writing, which do you choose when it comes to active vs. passive voice? Please leave your comments and opinions below.


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