Active and Passive Voice

           VERBS can be divided into two groups, ACTIVE and PASSIVE, which produce very different effects in writing.


             (What is a VERB? - It's a word that describes an action:- 'to run', 'to think', 'to fight' and 'to sleep' are all verbs.)




                        The teacher dropped the pile of books.


             The subject of this sentence is ‘the teacher’. (The subject is the person or thing the sentence is about; or the doer of the action. Here, the teacher does the dropping.)


              The object is ‘the pile of books’. (The object of a sentence is thing acted on. It is the books that are dropped.)


            Sentences written in the ACTIVE voice always follow this pattern: subject – verb – object.


            (Subject)     (verb)     ( object)

            The cat         killed       the mouse.

            The girl         licked       the ice-lolly.

            The man         bit         the dog.


            Sentences written in the active voice are always clear about who or what is performing the action of the verb.

            The ACTIVE VOICE is always more concise, more energetic and more easily understood.

            It is usually to be preferred to the PASSIVE.




            In sentences written in the passive voice, this pattern is reversed. It is less clear.


            The pile of books was dropped by the teacher.

                  (object)               (verb)            (subject)


            A sentence in the passive voice can always be recognised by the use of the verb ‘to be’ in some form – is, are, was, were, will be, been, being, etc.)


            It will also use a past participle - for example, dropped, shut, demanded, thought.)


     (object)  (verb ‘to be’)  (past participle)     (subject)

 The mouse         was             killed   by          the cat.

 The ice-lolly       was             licked by            the girl.

 The dog             was             bitten  by         the man.


         Most of the time, it's probably best to avoid the passive voice. It's always more long-winded and less clear about who is doing what.


            However there are times when THE PASSIVE VOICE is to be preferred.




            The Passive Voice is well used where the action described is more important than the actor, for instance, in scientific reports. So, instead of using the Active -


                        I poured 20cc of acid into the beaker...


            The Passive is used instead: -


                        20cc of acid was poured into the beaker...


            The Passive is also used where the main actor, or subject is unknown, or where you wish the emphasis to be on the person or thing acted on, for example:-


        The unidentified victim was struck by a speeding car...


         The four children were left alone in the house by their mother...


          The horse was left without food by its owner....


            The Passive is used impersonally, when giving information:-


          Fuel allowance will be paid when four consecutive weeks -


          Appointments must be made by...


          Guests are required to vacate their rooms by...


      The Passive Voice is also used to dodge blame, as in:-


          The cigarette adverts were designed to appeal to children...


            The Active Voice would be – 'The Cigarette company designed its adverts to appeal to children.'


               However the company does not wish to draw too much attention to the fact that it is deliberately selling cigarettes to children.


            Consider also:


                   I shot the girl with a gun. (Active)

                   The gun went off and the girl got shot. (Passive)


                   Our Allies mistakenly fired on and killed ten of our soldiers.

                   Some fatalities were experienced due to friendly fire.


                   I got drunk and crashed my car.

                   The beer went mad and my car was trashed.