Difference Between Active and Passive Voice
Passive vs Active Voice
Passive voice and active voice are two ways of using verbs.
Passive voice uses the different forms of the verb ‘to be’ or ‘is’ to describe what a thing is, or a statement of being.
The forms of the verb ‘to be’ are ‘is’, ‘was’, ‘were’, ‘being’, ‘been’, ‘am’ and ‘are’.
“Does it have to be difficult?”
“The cat was on the roof.”
“They were having fun.”
“You are being silly.”
“It has been a pleasure.”
“I am working on it.”
Sometimes, a sentence in passive form will use another verb to change the meaning of the sentence. Because it is in passive form, it will change the direct object instead of the indirect object. That means that it changes the thing that is being acted on – the direct object – instead of the thing doing the action – the indirect object. The verb working with the form of ‘to be’ is called a passive participle.
Active voice uses any other verb to describe what the thing is doing.
“The cat stood on the roof.”
“He drank the soda.”
“She kicked the ball.”
Because these sentences have both a direct object and an indirect object, they can be put in passive voice by flipping the objects and adding a form of ‘to be’.
“The roof was stood on by the cat.”
“The soda was drunk by him.”
“The ball was kicked by her.”
In most cases, active voice is better to use.
“The man ate the sandwich.”
That sentence is better to use than its passive voice counterpart.
“The sandwich was eaten by the man.”
Not only does it use more words, but it’s awkward to say out loud. It also puts more importance on the sandwich than the person eating it. Unless the sandwich is more important, it doesn’t make sense to use the passive voice for this sentence or for the sentences above.
However, there are some advantages to using passive voice. When you want to describe what a thing is instead of what it does, then passive voice is better to use.
“The cat is happy.”
“The computer is hot.”
In other cases, a different part of the sentence may be more important. For example:
“Someone murdered the man.”
“The man was murdered.”
In the first sentence, the unknown person who murdered the man is more important, so it is placed first. In the second, the murdered man is more important.
“The Egyptians invented lemonade.”
“Lemonade was invented by the Egyptians.”
In the first, the Egyptians are more important and in the second, lemonade is. You’d be more likely to find the first sentence in an article about Egyptians, and you’d probably find the second in an article about lemonade, because the subject of the article is more important in those cases.
Native speakers are often told to avoid passive voice as much as possible. However, some sentences require the passive voice, such as statements of being, because it only has an indirect object and not a direct object. Other sentences, however, are interchangeable. In that case, active voice does have advantages. Sentences that use it are often tighter and more direct than sentences that use passive voice.
“Why didn’t you complete your work?”
“Why was your work incomplete?”
Both sentences are correct, but they express different thoughts. The first sentence, which uses active voice, is more direct and confrontational. The second is softer and gentler, because it does not pinpoint ‘you’ as the person responsible. If the speaker is trying to express blame, then the first sentence would be better to use in this situation.
Like most things in the English language, this is something that gets easier with repetition. The important thing to remember is that passive verbs are used when the thing acted on is more important than the thing doing the action or when you are stating what something is.
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