passive vs. active voice

Passive vs. Active Voice Breakdown

Maybe you’re writing a really good future bestseller, or perhaps you’re trying to improve the sentence structure of a report. But how can you check if your tone is consistent?

We all learned about passive vs. active voice in grammar school 15+ years ago. However, focusing on the way you write sentences can help change and even improve the readability of your work. After all, you want powerful writing that keeps one tense throughout the entire piece. Literary agents, professors, and other writing professionals will likely notice if you shift from passive to active voice in the middle of a paragraph. You are going to be hunted down by grammar lovers if you shift your tense too often, too! (See what I did there?)

If you want to improve the consistency of your writing, you should understand the difference between active and passive voice. Here’s how you can tackle the problem of passive voice.

What is Passive Voice?

Passive voice: the subject receives the action.

Subject + (Auxiliary Verb + Past Participle)

  • The tickets are bought.
  • My cake was eaten.
  • A song is sung.
  • I am loved.

As you can see, the noun (such as “the tickets” or “cake”) receive the action. The auxiliary verb “be” always follows the past participle of the main verb. Some examples of words that fall in this category are:

  • be
  • am
  • is
  • are
  • was
  • were
  • being
  • been

If you’re still having trouble understanding passive voice, I would like to point out most passive sentences can end with the word “by [insert person/object].”

  • The tickets are bought by Lala.
  • My cake was eaten by Tom.
  • A song is sung by Ariana Grande.
  • I am loved by Dorothy.

This means the full structure of passive voice can be written as:

Subject + (Auxiliary Verb + Past Participle) + Person/Object Receiving the Action

What is Active Voice?

Active voice: the action is performed by the subject.

Active voice is generally considered the stronger of the two because the noun does or performs the action. You should strive to make all your sentences in the active voice if you want to write academically or professionally. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever use passive voice, but active voice adds more emphasis and power to your sentences.

Subject + Verb + Object Completing the Action

  • Lala buys the tickets.
  • Tom eats the cake.
  • Ariana Grande sings the song.
  • Dorothy loves me.

Now I am not a teacher, but as someone who loves grammar, I suggest practicing this concept. It might seem cheesy trying this as an adult, but I promise understanding passive voice can help keep your sentence structure consistent. I recommend checking out this worksheet and going through the exercises.

Whether you write professionally or for fun, knowing basic grammar will help you improve your style and tone. In no time, you should be able to fine tune your writing and grow into your own unique style.

 

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