Active and Passive Voices

By Jordan Dynes

Baseball Picture

I’m sure that throughout your academic career, your teacher or professor has told you that you should use either active or passive voice in your writing and that active and passive voice can be used strategically to help improve your writing. If you forgot what these are or still don’t totally get the concept, no worries! When active voice is used, the subject of the sentence is performing the action of the verb. When passive voice is used, the subject receives the action of the verb. Here’s an example:

Active – Kenzie hit a home run.

Passive – The home run was hit by Kenzie.

Active voice can help with concision and fluency because the subject of the sentence is the actor performing the action. The active voice is usually the best choice when you are writing an English paper, a Core Humanities paper, or any other literary paper.  In our first example, Kenzie (the subject in the sentence) performs the action of hitting a home run. The use of the active voice usually allows fluff to be eliminated and makes sentences seem crisper.

In our second example, the subject becomes “the home run” and the true actor (Kenzie) is moved into a prepositional phrase at the end of the sentence; the sentence is now in passive voice.  It is grammatically correct, but by using the passive voice, it delays or removes the actor, which can make the sentence less dynamic or unclear. If you use the verbs are, is, were, was, or am, it is safe to assume that you may be using the passive voice. 

You might be wondering if you should ever use the passive voice in your writing, and the answer is maybe. Passive voice is typically used in scientific writing. This style of writing allows the author to avoid including the names of researchers or personal pronouns as the subject. The following sentence is a perfectly acceptable use of the passive voice in a scientific report: “The vial was placed in a centrifuge for 15 minutes at 100 rpm.” Although the passive voice is used, the sentence is still able to convey the appropriate message to its intended audience.

Overall, when in doubt, the active voice is usually your best bet to use in your writing.  Next time your professor or teacher is lecturing about active and passive voices, you will already be ahead of the curve. You might even be able to teach your classmates a thing or two!

This entry was posted in General Writing Advice and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Active and Passive Voices

  1. Pingback: Own Your Words: Avoiding Hedging in Academic Writing | University of Nevada, Reno – UWC

  2. Pingback: Self-Awareness: Tips for Being an Observant Self-Editor | University of Nevada, Reno – UWC

  3. Pingback: Using Effective Language in a Cover Letter and Resume | University of Nevada, Reno – UWC

Leave a Reply