What Is Active Voice? (with Examples)
Active VoiceA verb is said to be in active voice when the subject performs the verb.
Look at this example of the active voice:
Examples of Verbs in the Active VoiceRemember that if a verb is in the active voice, its subject performs the action of the verb. Let's go through this step by step. In these examples, the active verbs are shaded.
- Janet posted a letter. Step 1: Find the subject. (Janet)
Step 2: Find the verb. (to post)
Step 3: Ask "Did Janet perform the verb?" (Yes! Therefore, posted is a verb in the active voice.)
- Curiosity killed the cat. Step 1: Find the subject. (curiosity)
Step 2: Find the verb. (to kill)
Step 3: Ask "Did curiosity perform the verb?" (Yes! Therefore, killed is a verb in the active voice.)
- All power corrupts. Step 1: Find the subject. (all power)
Step 2: Find the verb. (to corrupt)
Step 3: Ask "Did all power perform the verb?" (Yes! Therefore, corrupts is a verb in the active voice.)
- Some weasel removed the cork from my lunch. (W. C. Fields, 1880-1946) Step 1: Find the subject. (some weasel)
Step 2: Find the verb. (to remove)
Step 3: Ask "Did some weasel perform the verb?" (Yes! Therefore, removed is a verb in the active voice.)
- The boy tripped while running. Step 1: Find the subject. (the boy
Step 2: Find the verb. (to trip)
Step 3: Ask "Did the boy perform the verb?" (Yes! Therefore, tripped is a verb in the active voice.)
- The boy was seen tripping while he ran. Step 1: Find the subject. (the boy
Step 2: Find the verb. (to see)
Step 3: Ask "Did the boy perform the verb?" (No! Therefore, was seen is a verb in the passive voice.)
More Examples of the Active Voice
- Suzy chased the butterfly with a net.
- The kite soared high in the air.
- The children shielded their eyes from the bright sun.
- A squirrel bounced across the lawn.
- The soldier ants invaded the picnic with military precision.
- Paul imagined what the weather was like above those dark clouds.
- He is happy. (The action here is simply the act of being. The verb to be is our most common verb.)
- They are late.
- They were late.
- They will be late. (The three examples above all feature the verb to be in the active voice.)
A Tricky ExampleLet's make things really difficult now.
- Paul was slaughtered. (If slaughtered is an adjective meaning drunk, then was is in the active voice.)
- Paul was slaughtered. (If slaughtered is a verb meaning beaten easily, then was slaughtered is in the passive voice.)
Why Should I Care about the Active Voice?Sentences with verbs in the active voice are often more direct than those with passive-voice verbs. They are certainly shorter. As a result, many businesses encourage their staff to write using
The guidance to opt for active sentences over passive ones is so strong that many spell checkers (humans and applications) highlight a passive sentence as poor writing. However, both the active voice and passive voice have their benefits.
Here are four good reasons to use active sentences and four good reasons to use passive sentences.
(Reason 1) Active sentences are shorter.Active sentences are always shorter than their passive alternatives.
- He saw the dog. (This active sentence has four words and 11 characters.)
- The dog was seen by him. (This passive version has six words and 18 characters.)
(Reason 2) Active sentences are more direct.With an active sentence, the subject takes responsibility for the action.
- John made the decision to publish the article. (This active sentence makes it clear that John was responsible.)
- The decision was made to publish the article. (With this passive sentence, we don't know who took the decision.)
(NB: With a passive sentence, the doer of the action (called the agent) does not have to be named.)
(Reason 3) Active sentences are more authoritative.Active sentences are considered more authoritative because they make it clear who did what to whom and in a succinct manner.
- I passed the law to protect the public. (Here, the author is taking responsibility, and credit, for passing the law. It is more authoritative than the passive version below.)
- The law was passed to protect the public. (With this version, the author is not taking responsibility, or blame, for the law. It comes across as less authoritative.)
(Reason 4) Active sentences are more engaging for the reader.Using active sentences tends to make your writing more engaging because the facts are absorbed as they are encountered. In other words, the sentences are ordered naturally (e.g., in the format "A did something to B").
- My mother advised me to avoid the lake. (With this active sentence, the information is absorbed as you encounter it.)
- I was advised by my mother that the lake is to be avoided. (This passive sentence requires the reader to momentarily hold information in "brain storage" before that information's relevance is known. In other words, the information is not fully absorbed as it is encountered.)
(Reason 1) Passive sentences can be used to avoid blame.
- The article was published without permission. (This passive sentence avoids blame.)
- Simon published the article without permission. (With this active sentence, Simon takes the blame.)
(Reason 2) Passive sentences can show a neutral or objective tone.
- Assurances have been given that substantial concessions will be presented by both sides. (This passive sentence expresses a neutral tone.)
(Reason 3) Passive sentences are often appropriate when the agent is obvious, unimportant, or unknown.
- The shoplifter was arrested before he left the store. (The agent is obviously the police.)
- The meteor was seen passing over northern Siberia. (It is not important who saw the meteor.)
- The painting was stolen during the guard's lunch break. (The perpetrator is unknown.)
(Reason 4) Passive sentences allow you to focus on what's important.A passive sentence allows you to move the focus to the recipient of the action as opposed to the doer.
- Forty-two zebras were rescued by the rangers. (This passive sentence focuses on the zebras.)
- The rangers rescued 42 zebras. (This active sentence focuses on the rangers.)
Read more about using passive sentences.
Read more about voice in grammar.