Active Voice: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:40 What is the Active Voice?
  • 1:10 Examples
  • 1:35 Importance of the Active Voice
  • 2:45 Identifying the Active Voice
  • 4:25 Passive Voice Isn't…
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Using the 'active voice' in grammar means the subject of your sentence performs the action of the verb. In this lesson, we'll learn the difference between active and passive voice and how using the active voice can make your writing better.

What Is the Active Voice?

We've all heard this before from our English teachers: 'You should always write in the active voice.' But what exactly does this mean? Here are two different ways to construct a similar sentence.

1. Henry threw the ball.

2. The ball was thrown by Henry.

Let's take a look at the first sentence. The subject of the sentence is 'Henry,' and 'ball' is the object, which receives the action of the verb 'threw'.

Now moving onto the second sentence, we can see that 'ball' is the subject of the sentence, and 'Henry' is now the object that receives the action of the verb 'was thrown'.

The grammatical term active voice refers to a sentence in which the subject performs an action indicated by the verb. The first sentence is written in active voice, because Henry is the subject and he is performing the action.

By comparison, the second sentence is written in passive voice, because Henry is no longer the subject; now, he's just the object at the end of the sentence. In grammar, the passive voice refers to sentences in which the verb acts upon a noun or subject, which receives instead of initiates the action.

Examples

Here are some more examples of sentences using the active voice:

  • I called Jimmy last night.
  • Deborah read the book.
  • Bobby dug the ditch.

Now, let's take a look at how those same sentences read in the passive voice:

  • Jimmy was called by me last night.
  • The book was read by Deborah.
  • The ditch was dug by Bobby.

Did you notice that all the sentences written in the passive voice used the verb 'to be'?

Importance of the Active Voice

Creative writing and especially business reports need to be direct and to the point. As a writer, you don't want your audience and readers to lose interest. Writing in the active voice not only helps to maintain their interest; it can also dramatically improve the quality of your work. In following one of the most basic grammar and writing principles, you want to make sure you know who is doing what in a sentence. Sentences written in the active voice have life and energy in them. They are also cleaner and less wordy. Sentences written in the passive voice often sound awkward, almost backwards and convoluted.

Go back and take a look at some of the examples of sentences written in the active and passive voice shown earlier in the lesson and read them out loud. Notice how more energetic and engaging the active voice sentences are compared to the examples written in passive voice.

Remember, it's one thing to grab your reader's attention; it's another thing to maintain the reader's focus. Writing complicated, dull, and wordy sentences in the passive voice can bore or even confuse your reading audience.

Identifying the Active Voice

When you're done with this lesson, go find a copy of a paper that you've written in the past. Read through it to see if there are any instances where you may have written in the passive voice. They're usually accompanied by two warning signs:

  • While not always true, often times the word 'by' indicates the passive voice, as in, 'an action was done by someone!' Whenever you spot the word 'by' in your writing, go back and double-check your sentence.
  • A form of the verb 'to be' typically indicates the use of the passive voice, as in 'some action was being done by someone!' Be on the lookout for all of the verb's tenses: 'am,' 'are,' 'is,' 'was,' 'were,' 'been,' and 'being.'

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