Active vs. passive voice: learn the differences

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Understanding the difference between active vs. passive voice is crucial for effective writing. It’s something that I’ve struggled with personally, and I’m not afraid to admit that. I’m constantly pushing myself to recognize it when I see it so that I can be the best editor that I can be.

With practice and awareness, writers can create a sense of action and directness by using active voice, while passive voice shifts the focus or evokes a more formal tone.

Knowing when to use active or passive voice can significantly enhance a piece’s clarity. While both have benefits and usage, using them strategically is vital to convey a message clearly and engage the reader. The key is always to be intentional and purposeful and consider the ideal audience for the piece.

Here’s how I would define active and passive voice, and then I’ll discuss each form’s distinct features.

What is active voice?

The act of telling what a person or thing does is active voice when you’re writing it all out. The subject acts and typically comes before the action.

What is passive voice?

The process of telling what’s done to someone or something is what the passive voice does on the page. The subject acts and typically comes after the action.

5 examples of active vs. passive voice

Active voicePassive voice
Taylor (subject) ate (verb) six hamburger sliders (object) at dinner.At dinner, six hamburger sliders (object) were eaten (verb) by Taylor (subject).
The student (subject) wrote (verb) a scathing book review (object).A scathing book review (object) was written (verb) by the student (subject).
The staff (subject) is required to watch (verb) a cybersecurity video (subject) annually.A safety video (object) will be watched (verb) by the staff (subject) annually.
Stephanie (subject) will finish (verb) her final project (object) by next week.The project (object) will be finished (verb) by Stephanie (subject) next week.
Thousands of tourists (subject) visit (verb) Las Vegas (object) every year.Las Vegas (object) is visited (verb) by thousands of tourists (subject) every year.

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