Active vs. Passive Voice and Their Usage

Grammar aspect has always been one of the most nuanced, arguable and controversial in writing and editing any kind of paper. In particular, the difference between the active and the passive voice and their proper and relevant usage have troubled lots of students, professors, writers, and editors regardless their belonging to the native or foreign speaker category. Our aim is to define what the active and the passive voice are from the grammatical point of view, how we form them and in what cases it is better to build sentences with the help of the active voice and when it is better to use the passive voice constructions instead.

The Active Voice

A sentence with the following actions order “doer-action-receiver” is considered to be built in the active voice. In the active voice sentence the subject (predominantly the person or thing) performs the action or in other words “acts upon” the verb (the predicate in the sentence). The active voice doesn’t have specific rules of formation. The verb which is also the predicate in the sentence has to be in the appropriate to the situation tense form. For example:”I enjoy painting”. “He went to school” and etc.

The Passive Voice

A sentence is written in the passive voice form when the subject of the sentence (the doer of the action) is “being acted upon” by the verb, which plays the role of the predicate in the sentence. For putting emphasis on the person or thing that undergoes the action instead of highlighting someone or something that performs it we use the passive voice, too. The passive voice is formed with the help of the verb to be (in the appropriate tense) and a past participle of the verb which is the predicate in the sentence. For example: “She was betrayed”. There are cases when the verb get is used instead of the verb be in order to form the passive voice construction. For example: “She got betrayed”. To mention someone or something who or what does/performing/acting upon the action it is necessary to use the preposition by. For example: “She was betrayed by John”.

Despite the active voice obviously has a different aim from the passive voice, it should be mentioned that these two constructions are quite correlated. Sentences in the active voice with a direct object can be always altered into the passive voice. Hence, every time we create a sentence in the active voice with a direct object we face with a question “to leave it in the active or rewrite in the passive form”. To make the right choice, look at the suggested tips below:

  • To make a sentence sound clearer and shorter, it is recommended to write this very sentence in the active voice.
  • Decide on what you want to emphasize: the person who is acting upon or the recipient of the action.
  • Use the passive voice in case it is not stated, or unclear, or isn’t important by whom the action was completed/done/performed.
  • Any time you hesitate, opt for the usage of the active voice rather than the passive voice in order to avoid hard-to-comprehend sentences.

As soon as you define what the active and the passive voice are and what the target of your emphasis is, you’ll get rid of doubts tormenting your mind while writing. Specify, evaluate and choose the best way to express your thoughts on paper to sound intelligible and match the style of your paper.