Active vs. Passive Voice

Learn the difference between active voice and passive voice from Gotham Writers' Workshop instructor Stephanie Paterik in this Howcast grammar video.


One of the fastest ways to improve your writing is to learn the difference between the active voice and the passive voice, and to adopt the active voice as often as you can. But before we can start to write in the active voice, we do need to know the difference. So the active voice is a sentence in which the actor, or the subject, comes before the action, or the verb. For this example, "Batman threw Joker from a seventy-story building." Let's find the verb. In this case, it's threw. That's the action. And so our actor, or our subject, is Batman. And you can see that this is an active sentence, because we lead with our subject, we go into our verb, and then we go into our object, which is the person receiving the action.

The result is a really active sentence. The active voice kind of sounds the way you think it would. The sentence moves in a very logical fashion. There is a lot of momentum in the sentence. If you wrote that sentence in the passive voice, it would look like this. Joker was thrown from the building my Batman. In this case, our subject comes last, our verb is up here, and our object is the Joker who's leading the sentence. So you can it's a kind of backward construction, which can slow the reader down, because we are starting with the receiver of an action, rather than the person who is initiating the action. Another way to look at passive construction, you might see a sentence that looks like this. Joker was thrown from the building.

And in this case, the person who did the throwing doesn't even appear in the sentence. So oftentimes, a passive voice can sort of hide the actor. This can be useful. Say you're writing and email to a boss, and you need to say that your boss forgot to pay you that week. You might say something like, "My check did not arrive," without saying who neglected to mail the check. So sometimes the passive voice can be your friend, but in general active voice leads to stronger writing and a much more compelling reading experience.

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