What’s the Difference between Active and Passive Voice in English Writing?
Writing English is quite important when you learn English. If you understand the tips, you’d be better at sending business emails, writing blogs, etc.
Think about writing like a song. There are pauses, rhythm, melody, and tones that can make a song pleasing to the ears. In the same way, writing has certain voices and pauses that you can use to enhance your message. And one you can use to your advantage is your “sentence voice.”
A “sentence voice” relates to who acted on the subject in relation to a verb. There are two kinds of sentence voices — the active and passive voice.
Active voice is when the subject is the doer or actor of the verb in relation to the object.
- “Miko is playing the computer game.”
In this sentence, ask yourself, who is playing the computer game? It’s Miko.
- “My teacher gave me an assignment.”
In this sentence, who gave the assignment? It’s the teacher.
- “The dog chased the ball.”
What chased the ball? The dog.
You can see the pattern here. It’s the subject followed by the verb and the object. To analyze further:
- “Miko (subject) is playing (verb) the computer game (object).”
- “My teacher (subject) gave (verb) me an assignment (object).”
- “The dog (subject) chased (verb) the ball (object).”
You have to spot the verb. And ask if the subject did the action. Like in our examples above, who or what did the _____ (verb)? If the answer is the subject, then it’s an active voice sentence.
On the other hand, the passive voice means the subject is acted upon by the sentence’s doer. For the example above, you can convert the sentences into passive ones.
- “The computer game is played by Miko.”
- “The assignment was given by my teacher.”
- “The ball was chased by the dog.
As you can see, the object is now the sentence’s subject, followed by a “to-be” verb. Add to that, the verb’s past participle with the preposition “by” connecting the “doer” of the action. Usually, the “doer” is also at the latter part of the sentence. If we dissect the sentences above:
- “The computer game (subject) is (to-be form) played (past participle) by Miko (doer).”
- “The assignment (subject) was given (to-be form plus past participle) by my teacher (doer).”
- “The ball (subject) was chased (to-be form plus past participle) by the dog (doer).”
It’s like reversing the words’ arrangement with more emphasis on the object than the verb’s doer.
Passive Voice Sentence with Omitted Doer
Passive voice sentences can also omit the “doer.”
- “The car (subject) has been (to-be form) towed (verb).”
Who towed the car? The information was omitted.
- “The food (subject) was (to-be form) eaten (verb).”
Who ate the food? We don’t know.
- “The computer data (subject) was (to-be form) corrupted (verb).”
Who corrupted the computer data? No one knows.
In the examples above, the doer is completely excluded from the sentences.
When to Use Passive Voice
When writing, active voice sentences are preferred because it makes your sentences more concise, and it sounds more direct. The passive voice sentences sound more intricate, but it is more subtle and weak.
In general, you can use passive sentences for around 5-10% of your writing piece. But rules are made to be broken. It all depends on your intention. Here are some examples of when to use the passive voice:
It doesn’t matter who the doer is.
For example, “The parcel was mailed today.” You don’t know who mailed it. And it’s not relevant who did.
You want your reader to the object rather than the doer of the action.
For example, “The superhero-themed cake was delivered today for his son’s birthday by Les Maison bakery.” The cake is the highlight of the sentence. You want your reader to focus on the cake.
Applications You Can Use
To check the passive voice sentences in your write-up, you can use the Hemingway app. It analyzes your work to check the voice you use. And it also gives tips for readability and simplifying your sentences.
Grammarly also has the same function, but it is available only on the paid version.
You can also check: 5 Tools to Help You Write English Better
There you have it! Here are the differences between active voice and passive voice. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment with the sentence voice you can use. But it’s best to have someone to guide you in the process.