Knowing the difference between Active and Passive Voice is important for a good grasp on grammar. Each of these two grammatical views has its own unique way to shape sentences.
Using the wrong one can affect your content’s tone and clarity. Writing in the passive voice can feel clumsy and impersonal to readers.
What is Passive Voice?
Passive Voice is a type of sentence structure where the subject of the verb is obscured. Typically, auxiliary verbs like ‘be’ or ‘is’ are used with past participle forms of the verb, and the object is placed before the subject. Examples of passive sentences include “The Easter eggs were eaten by the squirrel” and “Wordle was bought by The New York Times.”
Generally, it’s preferable to use active sentences in most writing contexts. Using the passive voice can make your content feel less personal and natural to readers, while it can also reduce precision or clarity in some cases.
However, it’s important to remember that the passive voice is not a grammar mistake — it’s just a different way of writing. It is a perfectly acceptable and common method of composition, especially in certain types of academic writing. As a living language, even the rules of grammar change over time as colloquial and professional speech shifts.
When Should I Use Passive Voice?
Even though instructors encourage writing in the active voice, some situations call for the passive. Specifically, academic and legal writers often need to write in the passive when the actor isn’t known or would be distracting or irrelevant in the context of the sentence. Other times, the writer wants to emphasize the thing being acted upon, such as a car being broken into or cash being stolen from a register.
To identify a sentence in the passive, look for words like was, has been, or will be in the phrase that begins the sentence. Next, find the verb in that phrase and determine if it’s in the past tense or present tense. Finally, identify the person or thing doing the action and see if they are the subject of the sentence. If they aren’t, you need to switch the verb to the active voice. You can also remove additional helping verbs to help make the shift easier.
How Do I Know if My Sentences Are in Passive Voice?
Teachers and professors across the English-speaking world malign the passive voice as a bad writing habit. It’s often wordy and indirect, but it can also be useful in certain circumstances.
Passive sentences typically contain a form of the auxiliary verb ‘to be’ plus a past participle of a transitive verb (e.g., “Grandma was calling”). Our passive voice detector finds these constructions and others like them.
In some cases, it might be impossible or undesirable to change a sentence from the passive to the active voice. For example, some types of news reporting are written in the passive voice so that the reader doesn’t discover the identity of the person or thing performing an action. In other cases, it may be a conscious choice to make a point with a particular phrasing (e.g., “Historians evoked that treasure”). Our passive voice checker helps you identify and correct instances of passive voice in your text.
How Do I Correct Passive Voice?
While it’s not a big deal to use passive voice for some sentences, overuse makes your writing dull and less authoritative. In addition, using passive voice adds padding to your sentences – that is, extra words that hide your main idea and slow down your readability.
To identify your sentences in passive voice, start by determining the actor in the sentence — that is, who is doing the action. In a passive sentence, the actor is placed after the verb with the word “by.” Changing the subject of the sentence to place the actor ahead of the verb in active voice often fixes the sentence.
But some sentences may be difficult to reorder. For example, if the performer of the action isn’t known, it may be impossible to switch to an active sentence (for instance, The interviews were conducted by two people who had no relationship with New York City). In such cases, leaving a passive sentence in place can help convey your meaning.