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Active and PassiveVoice

ACTIVE VOICE: written in active voice, the subjectperformsthe actionexpressed the verb, the in In sentences subjectacts.

Scientists have conduded e>:r'+rirnflttt;to test the llypothesis.

lYatching a framed, of rvatching a rnovie or TV.

PASSIYE VOICE: In sentences in written in passivevoice, the subjectreceives actionexpressed the verb; the the subjectis actedupon, passivevoice expressions You can recognize because verb phrasewill always include a form the qre, or been.(The presence a De-verb,however, does not of be, such as om, is, rrss, were, of necessarily meanthat the sentence in passivevoice.) Anotherway to recognize is passivevoice performingthe action may appearin a "by the . . ." phraseafter the sentences that the agent is verb, or may be omitted.The agentperformingthe action,if named,is the object ofthe prepositionin this phrase.

The lroy was

by tn+.r dii{j.


Rerearch will be presentedby Fo+jaat the conference,

**#'t##'ffietubY "^ ?

f xf erirrrs*t'i-iave Seefi ronduclsd to test the lrypothesis.

agentperformingaction hasbeenomitted.)

I am remindedof watching a movie or TV by wFtchrng franred, through a car'srvindshield -


Sometimesthe use of passivevoice can create awkward sentences, in the last exampleabove. as In scientificwriting however,passivevoice is more widely accepted sinceit allows one to write without using personalpronounsor the namesof particularresearchers the subjectsof as (seethe third example above). Therefore, the writing appears convey information sentences to that is not limited or biasedby individual perspectives personal or interests.

CHOOSING ACTIVE VOICE: In most nonscientificwriting situations, active voice is preferable passivesinceactivevoice is to usually more direct.Even in scientific writing, overuseof passivevoice can causereaders lose to interestor to becomeconfused. (indirect) passive active (direct)

Over one-third The entranceexam was failed by oi*er applicantsto the school "t$F faiIed t he entrance-exam . ane-thir$ cf the eppiicantsto the school. The brakes were slammed on the car sped downhill, by ? Your hicyele has damaged.


e r a5

Shes/ammed on


as the car sped

(agent omitted)



Sentences active vorceare also more concisethan thosein passivevoice because in fewer words are requiredto express action in activevoice than in passive. passive(more wordy) active (more concise)

By then, the soundtrack wfifiave been By then,the sound have engn compfetely remixed the sdund by remixedthesountrack, compfetely engineers,




To changepassivevoice to activevoice, find the agentin a "by the..." phrase, determine who or or what is perfiormingthe action expressedin the verb. Make that agentthe subject of the sentence,and changethe verb accordingly. You may needto infer the agentfrom the context of the surrounding sentences.


Aeent nost of the ;lass

Chaneed to Active Voice


rhe bBok ftein s readby

most CIf the class,

Most of the classis readingl e bpok.

yv in Resulii- ittbe pubtished the next issueof the journal.

lgent not lpecified; nost likely The researcherswill publisfitheir lgents such of in results the next issue the ls "the journal. 'esearchers" :heCIA Jirectorand ris close ldvisors rgent not ;pecified; nost likely lgents such


A polity of

urashing and

cover-up th crA di advis+rs,


and his close

The CIA directdr and his

advis<rrs havepursued p tcy 0f a ng whitewaslri andcover-up.

by? Mista

We made mistakes.

CHOOSING PASSIVE VOICE: more effectiveto use in While sentences active voice are more clear and direct, it is sometimes passivevoice when the writer desiresindirect expression. Passive voice makessense when the agent performing the action is obvious, unimportant, or unknown or when a writer wishesto postponeor avoid mentioningthe agentat all. The passivevoice is effectivein these it circumstances because highlightsthe action and what is actedupon ratherthan the relatively unimportantagentperformingthe action. active Ihe dispatcherls nolrfying police that ihreeorisonershave escaDed.


performed new Surgeons successfully a liver-transplant operation :xperimental /esterday.


?oliceare being notifed that three prisoners rave escaped. liver-transplant { new experimental operation yesterday. uas perfor med successfu lly

If you want to changean active-voice sentenceto passivevoice, consider carefully who or what is performing the action expressedin the verb, and then make that agentthe object of a "by the..." phrase. Make what is actedupon the subjectof the sentence, changethe verb to a form and + past participle.Including an explicit "by the..." phraseis optional. of be



Active Voice


Agent Ihe oresiding rfficer

Voice Chansed to Passive

The presidin$$ficer yefoed the csnlnritteYs racOmmelldation, The leader$ are reekirtg foir resr;lution rhe crisis. to


The cornmittee'sYecom rn&dation was vetoed by the presidingtofficer-

fhe leaders

A fairoro,ffie t*frt

crisis being is

sought. (by the leacters)

Ihe ;cientists

5ci6ntisd have discovercd tracesofYce the sudace on of Mars.


icehayebeen discovered on the $furface Mars. (bv of


In eachof theseexamples, passivevoice is useful for highlighting the action and what is the actedupon insteadofthe agent.

SOME SUGGESTIONS: l. Avoid startinga sentence active voice and then shifting to passive. in Unnecessarv shift in voice Vany customersin the restaurant roundthe coffre too bitter to drink, but itwas stlll ordered llequently. fle triecl to act cool when he slipped in he puddfe,but he was still laughedat >vthe other students. Revised Many customers in the reslaurantfountl the ;offee too bitter to drink, but they sttll ordered it hequently. He tried to act cool when he slipped in the ruddle, but the other students sttll laughed at rim.

2. Avoid danglingmodifiers causedby the use of passivevoice. A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifiesa word not clearly statedin the sentence. Dangline modilier with passivevoice Revised fo savetime, the paper wos writlen on Io savetime, Kristin wrote lhg_papq on a r computer.(Who was savingtime? )omputer. Ihe paper?) 3. Don't trast the grammar-checking programs inword-processing software. Many grammar checkersflag all passiveconstructions,but you rnay want to keep somethat are flagged. Trust your judgment, or ask another human being which sentencesoundsbest. "ActiveandPassive Adaptedfrom: Voice."ThePurdue Universit-v OnlineWritinslab.2AA4.hrrdue 20 2005 University. December <>.


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