Active Voice or Passive Voice? What’s the Difference?

What is meant by Active or Passive voice?

Active voice is clear and direct. It stamps out what is happening in a dynamic way. It tells you who or what is doing the action (subject) and who or what they are doing it to (object).

Passive voice can be clear as to what is happening to the subject but usually sounds weaker as a statement. It loses the strength you want to give to your words (and strength in your words is important when you are writing for others).

Let’s take a few examples to show you what I mean.

Active Voice

John (subject doing the action) shouted at David (object receiving the action).

Stephen made the bread.

These are direct statements and have gravitas. Putting the same actions into the passive voice loses some of the impact and makes the sentence weaker.

Passive voice

David (subject receiving the action) was shouted (verb) at by John (object doing the action).

The bread was made by Stephen.

The active voice in the examples above are far stronger in conveying what is happening than the passive voice. Active voice has more immediacy.

You can check on whether a statement is in the passive voice if it has a form of be preceding the verb: is, was, were, had, will, are all variants of be. If one of these variants isn’t present then you have the active voice.

Comparisons

The sausages were cooked by Ben and Ella vs Ben and Ella cooked the sausages.

The cake had all been eaten by Joe vs Joe ate all the cake.

The entire wall was knocked down by the bulldozer vs The bulldozer knocked down the entire wall.

Which version of the above sounds better to you?

Conclusion

When you’re writing a story you need to be dynamic. That means using the active voice as much as you can. There is a place for passive voice but I’d advise you to restrict it as much as you can. And even when you think you are justified in using it see whether you can rewrite the statement in the active voice and whether it makes a difference to how you want to say it.

One thought on “Active Voice or Passive Voice? What’s the Difference?

  1. You’re conflating terms. The “object” in your passive voice examples is the object of the prepositional. It is not the object of the verb as in your active examples.

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