Chapter 9-6:  Active versus Passive Voice 

Grammar > Building Sentences > Active versus Passive

Active Versus Passive Voice

With active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action expressed in the verb. The sentence may have an object that receives the action, depending on the verb.

With passive voice, the subject of the sentence receives the action expressed in the verb. The sentence may or may not include who or what is performing the action.

Courtesy Spinsucks

Active or Passive Voice: Examples

In general, active voice is much more common in English than passive voice. The active voice gives a sentence a sense of immediacy and can be easier to read and understand. 

Below, you can read a variety of sentences written in both active and passive voice. Each pair of sentences gives the same information, but the active focuses on who or what performs the action and the passive focuses on who or what receives the action.


We close the store every day at 6pm.


The store is closed every day at 6pm.

The veterinarian will microchip my cat tomorrow.

My cat will be microchipped at the vet's office tomorrow.

Grace filled up my water bottle for the hike.

My water bottle was filled by Grace. 

The bad weather delayed our flight this to Boston.

Our flight to Boston was delayed by bad weather.

Over one-third of the applicants to the school failed the entrance exam.

The entrance exam was failed by over one-third of the applicants to the school.

Distinguishing Between Active or Passive Voice

Ask: Who is performing the action?

If you're unsure if the sentence is active or passive voice, you can answer a few questions:

If the answers for #1 and #3 are the same, the sentence is using active voice. 

For example: 

Because both #1 or #3 are the same, this sentence is using active voice.

Form of "To Be" + Past Participle = Passive Voice

A passive verb phrase will always include a form of be, such as am, is, was, were, are, or been plus a past participle. 

The presence of a be-verb, however, does not necessarily mean that the sentence is in passive voice. 

To avoid mistaking active voice for passive voice, watch for the past participle used in the passive voice or use the questions above to determine who is performing the action.

Passive Voice: By Phrase After Verb Phrase

Another way to recognize passive-voice sentences is that they may include a "by the..." phrase after the verb. The agent performing the action, if named, is the object of the preposition in this phrase. 

Reasons to Avoid Passive Voice

Sometimes the use of passive voice can create awkward sentences. 

The passive voice can cloud the meaning of your sentence. It may leave out important information that could make your sentence stronger if it was included. 

Overuse of passive voice throughout an essay can cause your prose to seem flat and uninteresting. Active voice creates more immediacy, gives your subjects agency, and is more direct.

Reasons to Choose Passive Voice

Sometimes writers find using an indirect expression is rhetorically effective in a given situation, so they choose passive voice.

Writers in the sciences conventionally use passive voice more often than writers in other discourses. Passive voice makes sense when:

The passive voice is effective in such circumstances because it highlights the action and what is acted upon rather than the agent performing the action. 

This practice helps to create the appearance of an objective, fact-based discourse because writers can present research and conclusions without attributing them to particular agents. Instead, the writing appears to convey information that is not limited or biased by individual perspectives or personal interests.

The three examples below visually demonstrate how the choice to use active voice versus passive voice can have an impact on where importance is placed. In the first image, importance is placed on who committed the murder. In the other two examples, less importance is placed on who did the murder and more so on the person that was murdered.

Active Voice

The butler murdered Marie.

Passive Voice

Marie was murdered.

Passive voice, with subject

Marie was murdered by the butler.


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