Passive & Active Voice

In academic contexts, active voice is often preferred over passive voice because it achieves clear, concise, and interesting writing. Active voice as a way of structuring sentences places the “actor” of a sentence at the beginning, and the “receiver” of the action at the end, with the verb between them. In passive voice, the sentence structure is nearly inverse, with the receiver at the beginning, the actor at the end, and a “to be” verb (was, were, etc.) with an action verb in between.

Active Voice:

Focuses on who/what is DOING the action

The student wrote the essay

Subject: “student”

Verb: “wrote”

Examples 

The NCAA accredited the school.

The Chancellor asked the students to participate.

Passive Voice:

Focuses on who/what is receiving the action

The essay was written by the student.

Verb: “was written”

Subject: “student”

Examples

The school was accredited by the NCAA.

The students were asked to participate by the Chancellor.

ZOMBIES?!?

Having trouble identifying if your sentence is passive? If you can add “by zombies” after the verb in your sentence, it is probably passive voice.

PASSIVE: The bridge was being repaired by zombies.

ACTIVE: Zombies repaired the bridge.

To shift sentences from passive to active voice, ask yourself
these questions:

  • What is the action of this sentence?
  • Who/what is the “actor” of this sentence?
  • Who/what is the “receiver” of this sentence?

Once you have identified these key elements, restructure your sentence so that the “actor” comes first, the verb second, and the “receiver” last. Your verb sill probably have to change to match the context of your new sentence (usually, this means that you will need to remove the “to be” verb and adjust the action verb).

Passive: The essays were submitted to the professor by the students, and the essays were reviewed for grades. The grades were earned by the students based on their use of active voice.

Active: The students submitted the essays to the professor, and the professor reviewed the essays. The students earned their grades by their use of active voice.

TIPS

Avoid past tense “to be” (was/were) verbs when discussing action to avoid passive voice.

  • Was writing
  • Were eating

Keep the subject and verb together in a sentence whenever possible.