Active vs Passive Voice: Difference and Comparison

Active voice emphasizes the subject performing the action, making sentences clearer and more direct. In contrast, passive voice shifts the focus to the recipient of the action, resulting in a less engaging and more convoluted expression of ideas. Choosing between them depends on the desired emphasis and clarity in communication.

Key Takeaways

  1. Active voice is a grammatical structure in which the subject acts as the verb.
  2. Passive voice is a grammatical structure in which the subject receives the verb’s action.
  3. Active voice is more concise and direct than passive, which can be more wordy and indirect.

Active Voice vs Passive Voice

In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action, whereas in passive voice, the subject of the sentence receives the action. For instance, active voice says, “she is writing the book of neuroscience” and in passive voice we say, “the book of neuroscience is written by her”.

Active Voice vs Passive Voice

Example:

  1. Her dog hit the cat. – Here, the subject ‘dog’ does the action. Thus, it is in an active voice.
  2. Her dog hit a cat. – Here, the action ‘hit’ was done to the cat. Thus, it is in the passive voice.

Comparison Table

AspectActive VoicePassive Voice
StructureSubject performs the action.Subject receives the action.
Sentence ClarityOften results in clearer and more direct sentences.Can sometimes lead to wordy or unclear sentences.
EmphasisEmphasizes the doer of the action (the subject).Emphasizes the action or the recipient of the action.
Use of TensesTypically uses simple tenses (e.g., present simple, past simple).May involve various tenses, including the use of auxiliary verbs (e.g., “was,” “has been”).
Word OrderSubject-Verb-Object (SVO) word order is common.Word order may change, and the subject follows the verb or is omitted entirely.
AgentClearly identifies the doer of the action (the agent).May or may not specify the agent, and the agent is introduced with “by.”
Common UsageCommon in everyday writing and speaking.Common in scientific, formal, or technical writing, or when the agent is unknown or irrelevant.
Clarity and BrevityTends to be concise and direct.Can be wordier and less straightforward.
Examples“The chef prepared the meal.”“The meal was prepared by the chef.”
Active vs Passive“They fixed the car.”“The car was fixed by them.”

What is Active Voice?


In grammar, active voice refers to a sentence structure where the subject of the sentence performs the action expressed by the verb. This means the subject actively initiates the action and directly affects the object.

Here are the key characteristics of active voice:

  1. Straightforward structure: The sentence follows the basic Subject + Verb + Object (SVO) structure, making it clear who is doing the action and what they are doing.
  2. Emphasis on the actor: The subject is prominently positioned and emphasized, highlighting its agency and responsibility for the action.
  3. Stronger verb usage: Active voice uses strong, transitive verbs that clearly express the action being performed.
  4. Concise and direct: Active voice results in shorter and more concise sentences, improving readability and comprehension.
  5. Engaging tone: The directness of active voice can make the writing feel more dynamic and engaging for the reader.
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Here are some examples of active voice sentences:

  • The dog chased the cat.
  • She wrote a beautiful poem.
  • They celebrated their victory.
  • He painted a portrait of his family.
  • I will finish this project by tomorrow.

Benefits of using active voice:

  • Clarity and understanding: Active voice promotes clearer communication by making it easier to understand who is doing what and how.
  • Conciseness and efficiency: Active voice avoids unnecessary words and structures, resulting in more streamlined and impactful writing.
  • Engagement and interest: The directness and immediacy of active voice can captivate the reader and make the writing more engaging.
  • Formal and informal writing: Active voice is suitable for both formal and informal writing styles, offering versatility and adaptability.

However, there are situations where using passive voice might be preferable:

  • Unknown or unimportant actor: When the actor is unknown or irrelevant to the focus of the sentence, passive voice can be used to avoid unnecessary emphasis.
  • Focus on the action or recipient: In situations where the focus is on the action itself or the object being acted upon, passive voice can be used to shift emphasis.
  • Formal and technical writing: Passive voice is sometimes preferred in formal and technical writing due to its perceived objectivity and neutrality.

What is Passive Voice?

In grammar, passive voice refers to a sentence structure where the subject of the sentence is acted upon by the verb. This means the subject receives the action rather than initiating it.

Here are the key characteristics of passive voice:

  • Inverted structure: The sentence follows the Object + Verb + [by + Subject] (O-V-S) structure, placing the object being acted upon before the verb.
  • De-emphasis of the actor: The subject is downplayed or even omitted, shifting the focus from who performed the action to the action itself or its recipient.
  • Weaker verb usage: Passive voice uses weaker verbs, such as “was,” “is,” or “be,” which can make the sentence less dynamic and impactful.
  • Longer and more complex: Passive voice sentences tend to be longer and more complex than active voice sentences, potentially impacting readability.
  • Formal and impersonal tone: Passive voice can convey a formal and impersonal tone, which can be desirable in certain contexts.

Here are some examples of passive voice sentences:

  • The cat was chased by the dog.
  • The poem was written by her.
  • Their victory was celebrated.
  • A portrait of his family was painted by him.
  • This project will be finished by tomorrow.

Benefits of using passive voice:

  • Shifting emphasis: Passive voice allows you to shift the focus from the actor to the action itself or the recipient, which can be useful in specific situations.
  • Formal writing: Passive voice is sometimes preferred in formal writing, especially in academic or technical contexts, where objectivity is desired.
  • Sentence variation: Passive voice can be used to add variety to your writing and avoid monotony when dealing with complex sentences.
  • Uncertain or unknown actor: If the actor is unknown or not relevant to the sentence, passive voice can be used to avoid awkward phrasing.
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However, it’s important to note that overuse of passive voice can lead to:

  • Unclear writing: The lack of a clear subject can make the sentence confusing and difficult to follow for the reader.
  • Weak and monotonous writing: The use of weaker verbs and longer sentences can make the writing less engaging and impactful.
  • Loss of agency: By de-emphasizing the actor,

Main Differences Between Active Voice and Passive Voice

  1. Focus on the Subject:
    • Active Voice: In active voice sentences, the subject of the sentence performs the action. The subject is the doer of the action and is emphasized.
    • Passive Voice: In passive voice sentences, the subject receives the action. The focus is on the action itself or the recipient of the action rather than the doer (agent).
  2. Sentence Structure:
    • Active Voice: Active voice sentences follow a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) structure, where the subject performs the action on the object.
    • Passive Voice: Passive voice sentences have a different word order, with the object of the action becoming the subject and the agent (if mentioned) introduced with “by.”
  3. Clarity and Directness:
    • Active Voice: Active voice sentences are clearer, more direct, and concise, making them suitable for most types of writing.
    • Passive Voice: Passive voice sentences can sometimes be wordier and less direct, potentially leading to ambiguity or less clarity, especially if overused.
  4. Emphasis:
    • Active Voice: Active voice emphasizes the doer of the action (the subject), making it suitable for highlighting agency and responsibility.
    • Passive Voice: Passive voice emphasizes the action itself or the recipient of the action, which can be useful when the agent is unknown, irrelevant, or when a more formal tone is desired.
  5. Verb Tenses:
    • Active Voice: Active voice uses simple verb tenses, such as present simple or past simple, to describe actions.
    • Passive Voice: Passive voice may involve various tenses, including the use of auxiliary verbs (e.g., “was,” “has been”) to indicate the timing of the action.
  6. Agent Identification:
    • Active Voice: Active voice clearly identifies the doer of the action (the agent) in the sentence.
    • Passive Voice: Passive voice may or may not specify the agent, and when the agent is mentioned, it is introduced with “by.”
  7. Usage:
    • Active Voice: Active voice is common in everyday writing and speaking and is preferred for its clarity and directness.
    • Passive Voice: Passive voice is common in scientific, formal, or technical writing, when the agent is unknown or irrelevant, or when a specific emphasis is desired.
  8. Examples:
    • Active Voice: “The chef prepared the meal.”
    • Passive Voice: “The meal was prepared by the chef.”
Difference Between X and Y 1
References
  1. https://www.ef.com/wwen/english-resources/english-grammar/passive-voice/

Last Updated : 25 February, 2024

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25 thoughts on “Active vs Passive Voice: Difference and Comparison”

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