Saturday, May 17, 2014

Passive Versus Active Voice

Passive and active voice is something I see spoken about constantly by writers, and the big problem is a lot of them don't know what it actually is. If you said, "She was walking down the street," you would not be using passive voice.

This is one of the most commonly seen mistakes that I see people thinking is passive voice. This could be written stronger by changing "was walking" to "walked," but that doesn't mean it's passive.

Writing is only actually passive voice when you make the object of a sentence (what the action is happening to) into the subject. So saying something like "The ground was walked on by Elizabeth," would constitute passive voice.

I know that was a fairly obvious example, but it isn't always that clear. "The city was filled with tourists," may look fine, but it's passive and could be said better as "Tourists filled the city." Not only does this use fewer words, it also makes those doing the action (tourists) the subject in the sentence.

You can directly identify passive voice by the use of a form of “to be” plus a past participle.

Another problem that arises with use of passive voice is a lack of clarity in the text. Let me give an example: "The news station was informed that a twelve-year-old boy was murdered." Who informed the news station of the murder? Based off of this sentence, we have no clue whatsoever.

A better way to state this would be to say "The police informed the news station that a twelve-year-old boy was murdered." Now if you look at the end of this sentence, you'll see I still use the phrase "was murdered" which is passive voice, but in this instance, it is acceptable. This is because you don't know who was responsible for the boy's murder, so it's okay to use passive instead of having to say something like "The police informed the news station that someone murdered a twelve-year-old boy." This sounds weak and would sound better in the passive form.

As you can see, there are exceptions over not using passive voice. The above example is one, as well as if whoever completed the action is not at all relevant to the sentence, such as if you're talking about a baby's delivery, you could use the passive voice to avoid mentioning the doctor's name. For example, "The baby was delivered at 3:21 A.M."

There can be other exceptions, and if you have any questions feel free to comment, and I'll do my best to answer.  

Do you struggle with passive voice? Did this post help? Let me know in the comments. 



  1. Oh I needed this post. Passive voice versus active voice is something I've struggled with for a while. Every time I think I've got a handle on it, it turns out I'm wrong. This was such a simple explanation though. Thank you! I think I get the concept finally.

  2. Good post. :) Passive voice and active voice is always something to keep in mind while writing.

    Stori Tori's Blog

    1. I'm happy you liked it, and I agree; it's sometimes hard to remember, but using active voice instead of passive voice really does bring the story to life more.