Distinguishing between active and passive voice can be daunting for new and experienced writers. This guide will help writers identify the difference between the two and provide tips to switch from passive to active voice.
Defining Active and Passive Voice
The first step is to learn the difference between active and passive voice.
In a sentence with an active voice, the subject is the person or thing that is doing the main action.
Example: John writes active sentences.
John is the one doing the writing.
- Subject: John
- Active verb: writes
- Object: active sentences
In the passive voice, the object switches positions with the subject. Instead of John taking center stage, he becomes part of a prepositional phrase, and the object becomes the subject — which muddies up clear writing. The sentence is no longer active because the subject isn’t doing anything but sitting there being acted upon by the verb.
Example: Passive sentences are written by John.
- Subject: Passive sentences
- Passive action: are written
- Prepositional phrase: by John
Three Tricks to Identify Passive Voice
- Look for specific helping verbs and prepositions.
Passive sentences need help for a reason: they can make writing dull. If a sentence contains one of the following words, it is likely in the passive voice: are, be, being, by, has been, have been, is, was, were, will be and the like.
- Ask good questions.
Identify the main verb, and ask who is doing the action. If there is no clear cut answer or the actor comes after the verb, the sentence is probably passive.
- Use a good grammar app.
The easiest way to identify passive sentences is to let another find them. Grammarly is a strong choice for identifying passive voice.
Techniques to Fix Passive Voice
- Look for the main verb.
In a simple sentence, the main verb or action word will be obvious. In a complex sentence, it may be harder to identify.
Example: The book was slammed shut.
- Identify the subject.
Who did the slamming? The sentence does not tell us. The writer needs to identify the slammer.
- Rewrite the sentence with the subject before the verb.
Once identified, rewrite the sentence.
Example: John slammed the book shut.
Now the sentence is in the active voice.