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Difference Between Active and Passive

In writing grammatical rules, passive and active voices have been plaguing people for a long time. Writers have not been able to discern the differences between passive and active voices, which make their written work to be lower in quality and other expectations of English grammar. It is essential for one to understand the difference between the two to improve his or her writing skills.

  •  What is Active?

In an active sentence, the noun that acts comes before the verb. Besides, in an active sentence, the noun that receives that action of the verb comes after the verb. In a given an example, and the active sentence would read like this; ‘the bear ate the fish.’ Its formula would follow as Subject+Verb+Object.

Difference Between Active and Passive

  • What is Passive?

A passive sentence follows a reverse trend in which the object appears fast in the sentence followed by the verb and the subject in that order. It is important to highlight that when one is creating a passive sentence, the writer has to add the verb ‘to be’ while at the same time including the proposition ‘by.’ In a given an example, a passive sentence would read, ‘the fish was eaten by the bear.’ The formula of a passive sentence is Object+ Verb+ Subject.

Difference Between Active and Passive

  1. Academic Preference

In the academic fields, teachers prefer the use of active voice rather than the passive voice. This ensures that all work within the school settings is written in the active voice while the passive voice is penalized for any student who has been found to use passive voice consistently. In addition, universities around the world, especially the English speaking states, have preferred students to use active voice while adhering to the rules and regulations against the use of passive voice. This explains why many academic journals and reports are written in active voice rather than in the passive voices. It is clear that anyone who has gone through the United States and the United Kingdom education system prefers the use of active voices rather than passive voice.

  1. Wordiness

Many scholars and researchers in the field of literature have one conclusion in common; active sentences have few words which makes them concise and easy to read while passive voices have long sentences and many words which makes it hard for many people to read. It is worth noting that many people do not read huge and block texts because they feel tired and bored. People like reading short sentences which clear-cut messages which means that they do not waste much time reading. Only actual writing offers this because it has few words in a sentence as compared to an active sentence.

Active sentence; the bear ate the fish.

Passive sentence; the fish was eaten by the bear.

From the two sentences above, it is clear that active voice is concise because it has five words while the passive sentence is wordy because it has seven words despite the two sentences conveying the same message.

  1. Directness

Active voice is usually direct and dramatic while passive voice appears confrontational. Due to concise nature of active voice, the information conveyed by an active sentence appears to be direct and dramatic without any aspects of vagueness or wordiness. On the other hand, information conveyed by a passive voice is not direct or concise which makes people struggle trying to depict the message in that sentence which brings about the aspect of vagueness and indirectness.  Moreover, a passive sentence appears confrontational and rude which explains why teachers do not like students using passive sentences in their writing because the formality of their work will be jeopardized.

  1. Necessity of Use

Another difference between actual writing and passive writing is that sometimes it is necessary to use passive voice because the active voice will not offer the required information. For example, police might be investigating a crime of which they cannot state who is responsible for the crimes committed. This puts the media and newspapers outlets between a rock and hard surface because they will have to report the incidence in passive voice as there is no other way of reporting the event. In addition, laboratory uses passive voices and not active voices. This is because the sentence has to start with the topic of the sentence and not the performer of the action. For example, ‘Electricity was first seen by Egyptians,’ or the beaker was filled with the corrosive solution. The sentences above show necessity after which active voices cannot be used.

  1. Accountability

The last difference between active and passive voices is the issue of responsibility in the sentences written using the two forms of grammatical construction. One of the main issues is that passive writing raises the issue of responsibility and accountability because it does not require a subject in its construction while active sentences demonstrate high levels of responsibility and accountability because they include subject in their construction. For example, the passive sentence reads,’ fiscal spending exceeded and is now being investigated’. The sentence lacks accountability and responsibility because it does not highlight who did the ‘exceeding’ and who is doing the ‘investigation.’ Therefore, it is important to use active sentences because they highlight high levels of accountability and responsibility.

Table Illustrating Differences Between Active and Passive



Preferred in Academic and Schools Not preferred in Schools or Academic
Short and Precise Wordiness
Direct and Dramatic Confrontational and Informal
Must Occasionally be used Used out of necessity
Demonstrates Accountability and Responsibility Does not Demonstrate Accountability and Responsibility


  • Once you have mastered the concepts and practiced a little, the difference between active and passive sentences isn’t too difficult to figure out.
  • Loaded with this knowledge, you can make definite statements that encourage your reader or listener to focus on the subject you want to discuss.

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  1. Hi there,

    I was confused by the picture included in your explanation of active and passive. It includes the penguins that attacked the sister.
    The part that is confusing is the active side of the image. The subject is not the sister, but the penguins. The subject in active voice is whatever does something. In this case the verb is attacking. Thus, who/what is attacking? Answer: the penguins.

    I would ask that this be corrected as I have seen this picture used by fellow teachers and students at the school that I work at.

    Thanks and best regards,


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References :

[0]Smith, Nadine. "The Difference Between Passive and Active Voice." (2017). .

[1]"Image Credit: http://neruskita.blogspot.in/p/blog-page.html"

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