Knowing the difference between active vs. passive voice can significantly improve your writing. Using active voice is a more direct way to construct a sentence. To understand how to write in active voice, you need to know active and passive voice mechanics. This article will break down the grammar behind active versus passive voice.
Warning, though, We’ll start by discussing the parts of speech because, well, kind of have to if we really want to understand this subject. If you don’t need all that, skip down to the Active vs. Passive voice header.
But, if you’re into some nitty-gritty grammar talk, then let’s get starting with…
Parts of a Sentence
Nouns and Verbs
To understand the difference between active and passive voice, we first need to understand nouns and verbs.
Nouns are words that represent a person, place, or thing. Pronouns are words that can take the place of a noun.
Example of a noun: John stubbed his toe.
The word John represents a person and, therefore, a noun.
Example of a pronoun: He stubbed his toe
The word ‘he’ replaces John, so ‘he’ is a pronoun.
Verbs are words that describe an action.
A sentence’s subject describes the person, place, or thing that a sentence is about, and the subject is often a noun or pronoun.
To find the subject of a sentence, you first need to find the verb of the sentence. The subject is the thing that is doing or being something. So, the subject of a sentence is often performing the action or verb.
The subject of a sentence is usually a noun or pronoun that performs the action of the sentence.
A direct object is a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase receiving the action of the verb. An example of a direct object would be Bobby built a cabin by the lake. The cabin by the lake receives the action, so it is the direct object.
Structure of a complete sentence
You need three things to make a complete sentence:
Subject + Verb + Direct Object (noun, pronoun, noun phrase)
Bobby (subject) built (verb) a cabin by the lake. (direct object)
Now, let’s talk about what you came here for:
Active vs. Passive Voice
To determine the difference between active and passive voice, find the verb and the subject. When writing with an active voice, the subject performs the action. However, with a passive voice, the subject receives the action.
Writers prefer active voice because it is more direct. Passive voice usually requires the conjugated form of ‘to be’ and the verb’s past participle (verbs that end in -ed). Because of this, passive voice is clunkier than active voice.
Example of passive vs. active voice:
Bobby built a cabin by the lake.
The cabin by the lake was built by Bobby.
See what I mean? Clunkier.
Detecting Passive Voice
To find sentences written in passive voice, pay attention to the verb, or action, in the sentence. Who receives the action? Is the subject of your sentence performing or receiving the action? The word ‘by’ should also be a clue that you wrote the sentence in passive voice, “the cabin was built by Bobby.”
“By” pops up a lot in the passive voice.
How to change a sentence from Passive to Active
Find the subject:
To change a sentence from passive to active voice, you first need to identify the sentence’s action. Ask yourself if the subject of your sentence is receiving the action or performing the action. Look at the example of a sentence written in passive voice:
The blinds were destroyed by the cat.
This sentence is passive because the cat is receiving the action (destroying the blinds). To change the voice to active, we need to rewrite the sentence so that the cat is acting:
The cat destroyed the blinds.
Easy enough, right?
Invest in an excellent online editor:
Writers can’t catch every grammar or spelling mistake on their own. Some things slip by no matter how many times you reread your draft. If you’re going to be writing at a serious pace, you need to find an excellent online editor. I use Grammarly, and it works great for finding and correcting passive voice and a hundred other errors.
Click here for Grammarly’s free version, a terrific option for most writers.
Or, if you prefer human editors, check out the editing services from Scribindi. They specialize in academic proofreading, and they are fast and affordable!
Both these are affiliate links, so I’ll make a little money if you use them.
Continue reading about active and passive voice, and grammar and editing:
Use the Active Voice- The Writing Center
Active Versus Passive Voice- Perdue OWL
20 Free Online Grammar Checkers- Art of Narrative
2 comments on “Active vs. Passive Voice: A Guide”
Excellent tips, John! Thank you.
Thanks KM! Fun grammar stuff. I learned a lot researching this post.