What are they?
Active Voice: The subject of the sentence performs the action expressed by the verb.
Passive Voice: An action is performed upon the subject of the sentence.
- Barbara bought eggs at the store.
- Julie won an award.
- The professor offered the students extra credit on the test.
- Eggs were bought by Barbara at the store.
- An award was won by Julie.
- Extra credit was offered on the test.
When to use active voice
- Use active voice in most academic writing (in most essays).
- Use active voice when you want to be clear.
Example: They told stories. (As opposed to the passive: Stories were told).
- When you want to be concise.
Example: Michela runs cross country. (As opposed to the passive: Cross country is run by Michela.)
Using active voice helps provide clarity in writing and cuts back on wordiness, which is particularly important when the sentence is already lengthy.
When to use passive voice
- When you want to put emphasis on the action. This is especially true when writing in the sciences.
Example: The petri dish was sterilized.
- When you want the subject and the focus to be consistent.
Example: The tutors were in the midst of an intense debate over Pepsi or Coke. The debate was finally settled by Aja.
- When you are strategically avoiding the subject.
Example: The students were accidently misinformed.
- When you want to create an authoritative tone.
Example: Students are required to have meal plans.
Practice: Should active or passive voice be used? Why?
- You are telling someone about the dog liking walks.
Active: The dog enjoys walks.
Passive: Walks are enjoyed by the dog.
- You are telling someone about John being rescued by a lifeguard.
Active: The lifeguard rescued John.
Passive: John was rescued by a lifeguard.
- You are telling someone about a mistake that was made on a group project.
Active: Sarah made a mistake on the group project.
Passive: A mistake was made on the group project.
- You are writing a thesis statement about why everyone should adopt pets from animal shelters.
Active: Everyone should adopt pets from animal shelters because it will save money and reduce overcrowding in shelters.
Passive: Pets should be adopted from animal shelters by everyone because it will save money and reduce overcrowding in the shelters.
- Active is better in this instance because it is more clear and concise.
- Active is better in this instance if the lifeguard is more important than John.
Passive is better in this instance if John’s rescue is more important than the lifeguard.
- Active is better in this instance if it is necessary to know who made the mistake.
- Active voice is better in this instance because it is academic writing, and it is more clear and concise than the passive voice.
Passive is better in this instance if you want to strategically avoid the subject, Sarah.