Last updated on December 22, 2016
Knowing the difference between active voice and passive voice is often a tough one for beginning writers. I spend a lot of time editing passive voice out of other people’s writing and remain mindful of it in my own. What the heck is the difference between one and the other? Really, it’s all about the verbs. A verb is in the passive voice when the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb.
Seems simple enough, right? You’d be surprised.
Most people have a hard time writing in the active voice
Why? In observation, I notice it often stems from lack of confidence. I see writers sneaking up on a subject or a situation and dance around it rather than just putting it out there–typical writer fear of rejection. Most people don’t even realise they’ve done it until you point it out.
Pitfalls of passive voice? It can bog a story down, make it seem plodding and too verbose.
Benefits of active voice? It can give a story movement, gives a sense of immediacy, makes it feel lighter and can turn it into an easy read.
Probably the best way for anyone to understand the difference between passive and active is to see examples in action. Hopefully, these will help:
Comparison – Passive and Active Voice
The lawn was mowed by my son. (passive)
My son mowed the lawn. (active)
The car was driven by the man in the green hat. (passive)
The man in the green hat drove the car. (active)
The baby was held by his mother. (passive)
His mother held the baby. (active)
The Christmas pies would always be made by my mother. (passive)
My mother would always make the Christmas pies. (active)
The painting will be finished by someone around 9pm. (passive)
Someone will finish the painting around 9pm. (active)
The laundry had most often been done by Laura the past several weeks. (passive)
In the past several weeks, Laura had most often done the laundry. (active)
The window had been broken by some boys playing baseball. (passive)
Some boys playing baseball broke the window. (active)