Active Voice Definition

How to Write in Active Voice

Active voice is an English writing style that uses the subject as the doer of an action. It sounds more personal and engaging than passive voice, which doesn’t use the subject. Active voice can be achieved by changing verbs’ action form (for instance: “I ate pizza” vs. “Pizza was eaten by me”), using first-person pronouns (“I”), and keeping tense consistent with what’s happening in the sentence (“has” instead of “had”).

Active voice sentence is clear and concise. The readers spend less time digging through unnecessary words and phrases to get to the point unlike in passive voice.

Writing in Active Voice

One of the most common problems in academic writing is the tendency to write in passive voice. You obscure who/what does an act and drain your thesis of emotional power.

It’s important to know when and how to write active voice in your university assignments or writing your own website.

Writing in an active voice helps the reader understand your point and makes your writing more engaging.

Use the active voice for clear, strong and active sentences

Passive: The ball was bounced. (Weak)

Active: Jack bounced the ball. (Strong)

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Consider This!

  • When possible, write the first person “I” or “we.”  Adding “I” or “we” is a great way to emphasize and ensure you use active voice.
  • Writing words that have an object which is being affected by the act of the verb.  Using a verb with an actor followed by a term being acted upon is an excellent way to stay passive voice.
  • If you cannot put the actor at the beginning of the sentence, start with what was done by whom and then add who did it.
  • Avoid constructions that utilize “to be” verbs such as am, are, is, was, or were.  Instead of “A review of the evidence is needed,” try something like “We need a review of the evidence.”
  • Using “there” or “it” in sentences that begin with “there is/are” tends to signal passive voice. Try rewriting such sentences using verbs’ actions.
  • Sentences written in conditional forms, i.e., ‘if’ clause + ‘would’ option, suggest an actor who may or may not take action.  These sentences are almost always more substantial in active voice.
  • Sentences beginning with an “ing” usually signal passive voice because it’s being acted upon by something or someone else. Such a sentence can often be improved by using an alternative construction or replacing the “ing” forms with other verbs.
  • A sentence with a subject that has no specific actor attached to it (“there” or “it”) is not utilizing active voice.  Take this sentence: “There was evidence of damage.” It would be best written as “The evidence showed damage.” In other words, the subject of a sentence should be the object/thing acting.
  • Avoid writing multiple words for the actor if you can write a single word to clarify your meaning.  For example, instead of “the applicant,” try “he.” Instead of “one,” try “you.”
  • Using an impersonal construction also tends to signal passive voice. For instance, a sentence that starts “It is important that” and “It is recommended that” suggests an impersonal agent acting without awareness or choice. 

You can improve those sentences by adding a specific actor acting or simply by deleting those constructions.

Examples of Active and Passive Voice

Active VoicePassive Voice
Italy invaded the countryThe country was invaded by Italy
A lion chases the gazelleThe gazelle is chased by the lion
I wrote the essayThe essay was written by me
All cells have DNADNA is found in all cells
The earthquake killed three hundred peopleThree hundred people were killed by the earthquake
I tore the paperThe paper was torn by me

What is Passive Voice?

Passive voice is a grammatical construction in which the object of an active sentence becomes the subject, and the subject is either omitted or demoted: “The country was invaded by Italy.”

In other words, passive voice shifts the focus from who performs an action to who or what receives or experiences that action.

Passive voice is generally considered less assertive, less direct, and less active than an equivalent sentence in active voice.

What is the Difference Between Active and Passive Voice?

The active voice is when the subject acts, while the subject receives the action in the passive voice.

Subjects and objects

Active sentences use subjects and objects, whereas passive sentences focus on the receiver of the verb’s action.

In active sentences the subject carries out the action of the verb i.e. Jennifer (subject) ate (verb) the apple. In a passive sentence, the subject gets acted upon by the verb, ‘the apple was eaten (verb) by Jennifer (subject) and ‘the apple was eaten’ (if the subject is unknown).

Perception and emphasis

Passive voice is often used when you don’t know who performed an action or if there’s a level of uncertainty about it. You can also use passive sentences to emphasize other parts in your writing by putting them after the verb.

Active: the girl fell. Passive: she was falling; then a boy pushed her down even further and ran away, laughing.

Nouns

Active sentences use nouns to describe the action of a verb, whereas passive voice uses verbs that can sometimes be seen as stronger as or weaker than active ones depending on your preference. 

For example, “he kicked me” is in an active voice because the subject performs an action of kicking.

But passive sentences use more verbs than nouns to describe actions or movements. For example, “I had been kicked” would be a passive sentence because “I” receives the action instead of performing it.

Active: He kicked me. Passive: I had been kicked.

While active voice is preferred in most academic papers, passive voice may be used for specific purposes, including:

  • Active voice is more common in both speech and writing to emphasize the object of the sentence rather than its subject.
  • To de-emphasize or hide the performer of an action. Active: I kicked him. Passive: He was kicked (by me.)
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Active Voice Writing Tips

To identify whether or not you are using passive voice, read your paper out loud. If you find yourself saying, “The experiment was conducted” or “It was proposed,” the chances are good that you are using passive voice.

  • Change the form of the “to be” verb into (am, is, are was, were, be, being)
  • Change the form of passive verbs into verbs’ action (e.g., burned -> burning)
  • Practice consistent tense in writing. Please write in the present when it’s about now and the future when it’s about later. Write past when it’s about history. Keep “has” when there is an act in progress or the future.
  • Keep nouns or adjectives in the form of simple, not compound
  • Write an indefinite article about something in general but avoid using an indefinite article when it’s about a specific thing like “the cat.”

To help you have more active sentences in your writing;

  • Read articles written in active voice.
  • Practice by switching all the passive voice verbs to an active form in your paper. The practice will help you identify and fix them as you go along and give your writing added energy and vigor.

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