Active vs. Passive Voice

Contributor: Kristen Gardiner. Lesson ID: 10286

Which is better, being active or passive? When it comes to writing, it depends on your purpose. Using online games and challenges and printed lessons, learn which is which and write your own story!

categories

Writing

subject
English / Language Arts
learning style
Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Take a look at this this short clip from the fourth Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie:

 

Notice how Mrs. Norton first refers to Greg's singing voice rather than directly to Greg. ("What a lovely soprano voice you have.") Greg is obviously not Mrs. Norton's favorite student, and she has difficulty complimenting him directly. Yet, she cannot deny the lovliness of his voice in comparison to those of his classmates.

If there were a way for Mrs. Norton to just have Greg's voice play Dorothy, do you think she would?

Based on her wording of the compliment, do you think her statement is in active or passive voice? Explain your answer.

Using the Active Voice

When writing, your sentences should be active. That means you should have the subject performing an action. 

Remember, actions speak louder than words!

This is useful when proofreading your writing, especially concerning non-fiction and narrative pieces. Remember, using the active voice gives your writing a better flow and makes it easier for the reader to follow.

In the statement above, when Mrs. Norton says to Greg, "What a lovely falsetto voice you have," she is speaking in the active voice. You may have guessed passive, but let's see if you did so for the correct reason!

Sometimes, when you argue with a close friend or sibling, you get so fed-up with him or her that the fact that he or she is expelling carbon monoxide in the same state as you makes you furious! You need to think about which type of statement is more likely to get the response you are seeking.

For example, if your brother just hacked your Instagram, you're not about to say, "Dearest brother, I shall ruin your reputation with an even more sinister counter-strike against your social media." You're more likely to say something such as, "Your accounts are toast!"

Which statement is more effective: One that promises a direct threat of immediate action, or one that tells you some vague threat may come at a later time?

By complimenting only his voice, Mrs. Norton illustrates to the class that she does appreciate Greg's voice, and that his voice may have an active chance at becoming Dorothy; Greg Heffley, on the other hand, does not.

However, even Mrs. Norton cannot deny that the voice belongs to Greg: You = subject; Have = verb; Voice = direct object.

But rest assured, if Mrs. Norton could have found a way to make the compliment passive, she would have done so.

Challenge: By the end of the lesson, see if you can make the statement passive with voice as the subject.

Before we start, here's a quick refresher, just to be certain we're clear on sentence structure:

  • The subject of the sentence is the noun doing the action.
  • The verb is what the subject does (that is, the action).
  • The direct object is the who or what receiving the action.

For example: Mary walked the dog. In this sentence, Mary is the subject doing the action. Mary is walking.

We can then ask who or what Mary is walking to find the direct object. Mary is walking the dog. So dog is our direct object.

Now We're Ready to Begin Writing in the Active Voice

Here are a few tips:

Find your subject and direct object. Circle your subject and underline the direct object so you can keep track as you move through the next steps.

Flip your subject and direct object:

  • Passive: This proposed rule (subject) was published (action) by General Counsel (object) in the Federal Register.

  • Active: General Counsel (subject) published (action) this proposed rule (object) in the Federal Register.

Change the verb to eliminate the helping (auxiliary) verb:

  • Passive: We need to think about how our resources (subject) will be used (action) for the party.

  • Active: We (subject) need to think about how to use (action) our resources (object) for the party.

Rethink the sentence:

  • Passive: Although the math test was already taken by Darrel, Mr. Jones forgot to enter his score.

  • Active: Darrel already took the math test, but Mr. Jones forgot to enter his score.

Writing in the active voice isn't difficult if you follow the who-does-what sequence. Your readers can visualize the action and follow the action to the conclusion.

Active vs. Passive

This lesson is going to focus on having you identify the two voices and focus on writing mainly in the active voice. This does not mean that the active voice should always be used.

Writers often use the active voice because it is more concise and easier for readers to follow. However, there isa time andplace for the passive voice in a variety of genres.

In passive sentences, the word receiving the action is the subject of the sentence and the word or words doing the action is optionally included near the end of the sentence. You canuse the passive form if you do not know who is doing the action or if you do not want to mention who is doing the action.

For example, mystery novels are often written in passive voice if the author does not want to reveal a character's identity:

  • The door was slammed shut. (We don't know who or what slammed the door.)

Also, in political debates or sensitive situations where we do not want to directly place blame, passive voice will be used:

  • The new dress code policy has been a disaster since day one. (If addressing the school board, and they voted for the policy, it is a much softer way of saying the school board created a chaotic disaster with the new dress code policy.)

Passive voice is also often used in journalistic, scientific, and technical writing. You can use the passive form if you think that the thing receiving the action is more important or should be emphasized, but we'll get into that in another lesson.

Print More Practice with Active and Passive Voice found in the Downloadable Resources in the right-hand sidebar for lots more practice!

Now let’s practice identifying active and passive voice with IXL Learning, Inc.'s Identify active and passive voice game. Be sure to revisit this game from time to time and keep track of your scores!

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