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active voice, passive voice, voice

Sentences written in active voice are usually clearer and more effective than sentences written in passive voice. However, that doesn’t mean we should always avoid passive voice.

Active vs. passive voice

In active voice, the subject is the doer of the action expressed in the verb:

  • Maneesha ate the apple.                
    [Maneesha did the eating.]
  • The theatre company will perform a Shakespearean play next week.                  
    [The company will do the performing.]

In passive voice, the subject is the receiver of the action expressed in the verb:

  • The apple was eaten by Maneesha.                   
    [The apple didn’t do the eating; it received the action.]
  • A Shakespearean play will be performed next week.
    [The play won’t do the performing; it will receive the action.]

In these last two examples, the action is done by a person (or group of people) and carried over onto the apple and the play. Thus, the subjects apple and play are the receivers of the action. In these sentences, the doer of the action is either named in a phrase after the verb (by Maneesha) or is left unnamed.

Advantages of active voice   

Active voice is more concise: an active voice sentence is always shorter than the same sentence in passive voice.

Active voice is clearer and more direct, because it puts the doer of the action first and follows a logical order:

DOER of action + ACTION + RECEIVER of action (if any)

And of course, active voice is active—so it makes our writing more dynamic and energetic. For these reasons, it is usually better to write in active voice—and to rewrite any passive voice sentences to make them active.

Uses of passive voice

Although active voice is usually better, passive voice makes good sense in the following situations:

  • when the doer of the action is unknown
    • The lights were left on.
      [You don’t know who left them on.]
  • when the doer of the action is less important than the receiver
    • The package was delivered this morning.
      [It doesn’t matter who brought it.]
  • when the doer of the action is someone you don’t want to name
    • I was given the wrong directions.
      [You don’t want to lay blame.]