Voice: Active & Passive
University of Utah Writing Center
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Content of this presentation
Whether you are reading this guide to complete a grammar exercise, are
reviewing your term paper, or are reading this just for fun, here’s what you
▪ A review of active voice
▪ A review of passive voice
▪ When to use active voice
▪ When to use passive voice
▪ Test your knowledge!!
Back to the basics
Before we begin defining and identifying voice, let’s take a quick refresher
in sentence structures.
▪ In English, word order in a sentence is dictated by the SVO rule:
Subject + Verb + Object
(S) + (V) + (O)
▪ The verb is the action word in the sentence. More often than not, the
subject is the noun/noun phrase/pronoun in front of the verb, and the
rest of the sentence after the verb is the object.
Let us look at a couple of examples.
The Sun rises in the east.
John forgot to pack his lunch.
The thief was caught red-handed.
Hermione rented a movie on Saturday, but didn’t have time to watch it.
A review of active voice
Now that we have a good understanding of subjects and objects and
verbs, we are ready to dive into active voice.
▪ When the doer of the action (the person/thing really DOING the
action) is the subject of the sentence, the sentence is in active voice.
The dog barked at the cab driver
– This sentence is in active voice.
Is the subject, “the dog”,
performing the action? Is
the dog barking?
More examples of active voice
▪ The children opened their Christmas presents with great excitement.
▪ I watched the news this morning.
▪ Edward planted a seedling in his backyard.
▪ The police secured the crime scene.
▪ We rode our horses into the sunset.
In all of these examples, the subject is directly completing the action
described by the verb.
Some more examples
Consider the following sentences:
Are these subjects the doers of
Is the cat chasing?
Is the dinner preparing?
Is Romeo hitting?
Are the students penalizing?
▪ The cat was chased by the dog.
▪ Dinner was prepared by my mother.
▪ Romeo was hit by a snowball on his way to work.
▪ Students will be penalized for turning in their papers late.
In each of these examples, the subject is NOT the doer of the action;
instead, the subject is the receiver of the action. These sentences are in
A review of passive voice
▪ If the subject of the sentence is affected by the action (the verb), or is on
the receiving end, then the sentence is in passive voice.
Students will be penalized for turning their papers late.
– Here, students (the subject) are affected by the penalty. This is a passive sentence.
The posters have been put up around campus
– Here, the posters are the receivers of the action “putting up”. This is also a passive
One idea, two voices
Both active voice and passive
voice can express the same
idea. Which one you choose
depends on what your
Are you trying to make an
accusation (like in the active
sentence)? Or are you
reporting the stealing of a
cookie (like in the passive
When to use active voice
▪ Active voice is recommended for most forms of writing.
▪ It is direct, straightforward, more natural, succinct and emphatic. For
instance, consider the difference between:
▪ The door is to be shut by you. (Passive voice)
▪ Shut the door. (Active voice)
▪ The wall was crashed into by the drowsy truck driver. (Passive voice)
▪ The drowsy truck driver crashed into the wall. (Active voice)
Can you tell the difference in emphasis between the two forms?
When to use passive voice
▪ Passive voice is common in scientific or technical writing:
▪ The test tubes must be rinsed after each use.
▪ Passive voice is used to highlight the receiver of the action:
▪ My leg was bitten by the snake.
▪ Passive voice is used when the doer/ actor is unknown or unimportant:
▪ This story was first told many, many years ago.
▪ All the reports were submitted on time.
▪ The best cheese in the world is made in Canada, and is called Lankaaster.
Test your knowledge!!
▪ Tom did not fall for Jerry’s mean trick. ________________
▪ Many factors were taken into account. ________________
▪ His hair was cut by a professional. ________________
▪ She already bought her dress for prom. ________________
▪ Portia refused to go to the dentist. ________________
▪ The mother read a bedtime story to her baby. ________________
▪ DiCaprio won an Oscar for his performance in “The Wolf of Wall
Congratulations on making it
to the end!
It is hoped you have enjoyed and/or
found this guide useful ;)