Active and passive voice refer to the subject of a sentence, and how action is performed. With active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action (think verb). In a passive voice, the subject receives the action.
Take a look at the following sentences:
EX. 1 The politician believes he is the best person for the job.
EX. 2 It is believed by the politician that he is the best person for the job.
See the difference?
Both sentences above say the same thing, but the first example is clearer and more to the point. Why? Because the first sentence uses active voice, the subject, “The politician,” is doing the action, “believes.”
Active voice places the subject first, followed by the verb and object, as in-
The doctor stated that the patient’s high stress caused her heart attack.
It was stated by the doctor that the patient’s high stress caused her heart attack.
Because passive sentence construction add words and changes the normal doer-action-receiver, the reader must work harder to understand the intended meaning. Passive constructions are by their very nature wordier than active constructions, which also can lead to confusion.
See the following examples of active vs. passive voice below:
Active: Diane (subject) loves (verb) her new chickens (object).
Passive: The new chickens (object) were loved (passive verb) by Diane.
Active: The Camaro (subject) outran (verb) the police cruiser (object).
Passive: The police cruiser (object) was outran (passive verb) by the Camaro (object).
Note that passive sentences aren’t incorrect; it’s just that they often aren’t the best way to phrase your thoughts. Sometimes passive voice is awkward and other times it’s vague. In addition, passive voice is usually wordy, so you can tighten your writing if you replace passive sentences with active sentence
One way to identify a passive sentence construction is to note the word “by” in the sentence. If you have a passive sentence with a “by” phrase, such as, “The boy was bitten by the dog,” rewrite the sentence so the subject comes first, followed by the verb:
“The dog bit the boy.”
Passive Voice Uses
Passive voice actually is preferred in some instances. If you want to emphasize the action rather than the subject (or actor) you might use passive voice.
After the debate, the bill was endorsed by the state legislature.
Another instance you’ll find passive voice is in scientific writing.
“The DNA was tested.” (By whom?)
In this example, we don’t know who tested the DNA, as the author decided that wasn’t important. Scientists are expected to sound objective, so they take themselves, the subject, out of their sentences.
Although you may not be able to eliminate all passive voice from your writing, work to minimize it as much as possible. Your writing will be clearer, your message will be stronger, and your audience will be grateful!
Now You Try!
Revise the passive sentences below to active. (Note the use of verb form).
- The new nursing program had been approved by the Curriculum Committee and the Board of Trustees.
- With five seconds left in the game, an illegal time-out was called by one of the players.
- “The Yellow Wallpaper” was written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
- An unexpected tornado smashed several homes and uprooted trees in a suburb of Knoxville.
- I was surprised by the teacher’s lack of sympathy.
(Exercises from http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/quizzes/passive_quiz.htm)