What Is Passive Voice: The Definitive Guide

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Most people have no idea what is passive voice. Even some content writers, who should know better, misuse this term all the time. In this definitive guide to passive voice, I’m going to clear up any confusion and help you learn how to use this grammatical concept correctly. So whether you’re a student writing an essay, or a business executive preparing a report, read on to find out everything you need to know about passive voice.

what is passive voice

What is Passive Voice?

Language is a funny thing. We use it every day to communicate our thoughts and ideas, yet most of us don’t stop to think about how it actually works. Take the distinction between active and passive voice, for example. You probably know that passive voice is generally considered to be weaker and less effective than active voice. But do you know why? And more importantly, do you know how to spot it?

Passive voice is when the subject of a sentence is acted upon by the verb. For example, “The ball was caught by the boy.” In this sentence, the subject (ball) is being acted upon (caught) by the verb (boy), so it is in passive voice. Passive voice is often considered to be weaker or less effective than active voice, where the subject of the sentence is doing the action.

For example, “The boy caught the ball.” In this sentence, the subject (boy) is doing the action (caught), so it is in active voice. While passive voice can be used effectively in some situations, active voice is generally considered to be more powerful and direct. As a result, it is often preferable to use active voice when writing persuasively or trying to get a point across clearly.

Purpose of Passive Voice

The passive voice is often seen as a sign of bad writing. File this under tips that are easy to give but hard to follow. The reason the passive voice is such a temptation is that it can be useful in certain situations. When you want to deflect responsibility (“mistakes were made”), when you want to make an accusation sound less harsh (“the ball was dropped”), or when you want to sound objective (“data was collected”), the passive voice can be your friend.

But in almost every other instance, the active voice will serve you better. It’s more concise, more emphatic, and ultimately more persuasive.

Here’s a before-and-after comparison of some text written in the passive voice and then rewritten using the active voice.

  • Passive voice: A decision was made to collect data.
  • Active voice: We decided to collect data.
  • Passive voice: The data was collected by a team of researchers

So the next time you’re tempted to use the passive voice, ask yourself whether you really need it. Chances are, you don’t.

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Active and Passive Voices in Writing

Voice is the distinctive style or manner of expression of a particular composer, writer, or speaker. In literature, there are two main types of voice: active and passive.

Active voice is when the subject of the sentence is performing the action. For example, “I am writing a paper.”

Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence is being acted upon. For example, “A paper is being written by me.”

While there are times when passive voice can be used effectively, generally speaking, active voice is much more powerful and concise. When you use active voice, your writing is clearer and more direct. It also tends to be more persuasive, since it sounds confident and authoritative.

As a result, active voice should be the default choice for most writers. However, there will still be times when passive voice is the better option. If you want to emphasize the object of the sentence or downplay the role of the subject, passive voice can be a good choice. Ultimately, the most important thing is to choose whichever form best conveys your meaning.

How to Recognize Passive Voice

If you’re like most people, you probably use the passive voice without even realizing it. The passive voice is a way of constructing sentences in which the subject is acted upon by the verb, rather than doing the action itself. For example, “The ball was thrown by Sarah” is in the passive voice, while “Sarah threw the ball” is in the active voice.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with using the passive voice, it can often make your writing sound vague and unclear. In addition, sentences in the passive voice are often longer and more complicated than those in the active voice. As a result, they can be more difficult to read and understand.

So how can you tell when you’re using the passive voice? Here are a few tips:

  1. Pay attention to who or what is doing the action. If you can’t easily identify who or what is responsible for the action, then chances are your sentence is in the passive voice.
  2. Look for forms of the verb “to be.” Sentences in the passive voice often contain forms of the verb “to be,” such as “is,” “are,” “was,” or “were.”
  3. See if you can reword the sentence using different verbs. If you can rearrange a sentence so that the subject is doing the action instead of being acted upon, then chances are it was originally written in the passive voice.

While it takes a bit of practice to get used to spotting Passive Voice check these tips will help you become a pro at identifying it in your own writing as well as editing it out!

When to Use Passive Voice

The passive voice has its place. When you want to minimize the importance of the actor, when you want the focus to be on the action or the recipient, the passive voice is a clear way to do that. For example, “Mistakes were made” is the perfect passive voice construction because it doesn’t matter who made them.

The focus is on the mistakes and the process of correction, not on whoever was responsible for screwing up in the first place.

Other times, using the passive voice can help you sound objective: “A study was conducted to determine whether a new treatment was effective.” This sentence doesn’t say who did the studying, so it sounds like an unbiased report of facts. In general, though, it is suggested that you avoid the passive voice.

It’s usually a way to paper over laziness (“This report was written by me”) or a lack of confidence (“I was attacked by a bear”). Be active. Be specific. The world will be a better place for it.

How to Convert from Active to Passive Voice

The active voice is direct, brief, and clear. It names the actor in a sentence and typically puts that actor before the verb. For example, “The cashier counted the money.” The passive voice, on the other hand, is often indirect and can make a sentence sound convoluted. It can also make it difficult to determine who or what is doing the action. In the passive voice, the actor is usually omitted or placed after the verb. For example, “The money was counted by the cashier.”

Converting from active to passive voice can be as simple as rearranging the word order in a sentence. However, it’s important to make sure that the new sentence still conveys the same meaning as the original. Otherwise, you could end up with a confusing or inaccurate message.


Passive voice is a grammatical construction that emphasizes the action or occurrence rather than the actor. It can make your writing sound more objective and less opinionated. Passive voice also tends to be weaker and less concise than active voice, so it’s important to use it sparingly. You should convert from passive to active voice when possible because it makes for stronger, clearer writing.


What is the passive voice?

The passive voice is a verb form that can be used to create a sentence in which the subject is not doing the action of the verb. For example, “The book was given to me by my teacher” is in the passive voice because “I” am not the one who gave the book to myself. Instead, my teacher did.

When should I use the passive voice?

The passive voice can be used in a variety of situations, but it is most often used when the subject is unknown or unimportant. For example, “The bank was robbed” is in the passive voice because the subject (the person who robbed the bank) is unknown.

What are some other examples of the passive voice?

Here are a few more examples of sentences in the passive voice:

  • The windows were broken by vandals.
  • Dinner will be served at 6pm.
  • A new bridge is being built over the river.

Is the passive voice always wrong?

No, the passive voice is not always wrong. In fact, it can be quite useful in some situations. However, it is important to use the passive voice sparingly, as too much use of the passive voice can make your writing sound weak and unclear.

When should I avoid using the passive voice?

There are a few situations when you should avoid using the passive voice.

  • If you want to emphasize the subject of the sentence, you should use the active voice instead of the passive voice. For example, “I wrote the report” is in the active voice and emphasizes that “I” did the writing.
  • You should avoid using the passive voice if you want to make your writing sound more forceful and direct. For example, “The company needs to increase its sales” sounds more forceful than “Sales need to be increased by the company.
  • You should avoid using the passive voice if you want to make your writing sound more concise. For example, “I will write the report” is more concise than “The report will be written by me.”

What are some tips for avoiding the passive voice?

Here are a few tips that can help you avoid using the passive voice in your writing:

  • Identify the subject of each sentence and make sure that it is performing the verb’s action.
  • If you’re having trouble identifying the subject, try rewriting the sentence in the active voice.
  • If you’re still having trouble, try breaking the sentence down into smaller parts to make it easier to identify the subject.
  • Avoid using phrases such as “there is” or “there are” at the beginning of sentences, as these often imply the use of the passive voice.
  • Finally, if you find yourself using the passive voice frequently, take a step back and consider whether active voice would be more appropriate.

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