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Passive and Active Voice: Finding the Intent and Balance

Active voice and passive voice are two different ways of structuring sentences, and they can significantly impact the clarity and effectiveness of your writing. In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action, while in passive voice, the subject receives the action. This changes the emphasis of the sentence.

Active voice: "The Tiger Writer drafted the research paper."

Passive voice: "The research paper was drafted by the Tiger Writer."

The active voice focuses on the subject performing the action, making the sentence more direct, concise, and engaging. It clearly states who is responsible for the action.

In contrast, the passive voice emphasizes the recipient of the action, obscuring or omitting the doer of the action. While passive voice can be useful in specific contexts, such as when the doer is unknown or irrelevant, it often leads to wordiness and can make writing feel impersonal or unclear.

To determine whether to use active or passive voice, consider the clarity and impact you want to achieve. Active voice is generally preferred in most writing situations as it enhances readability and conveys a sense of agency and immediacy. It promotes stronger, more concise sentences and ensures that the subject and action are clear to the reader. However, passive voice can be appropriate in certain situations, such as when you want to shift the focus to the recipient of the action or when you want to sound more formal or objective.

There are specific contexts and types of writing that require use of passive voice or active voice. Effective writing involves a balance of active and passive voice, depending on the context and purpose of your writing. Be intentional with your choices and strive for clarity, coherence, and engagement in your sentences.

Some Examples:

Passive voice:

  1. The football game was won by Clemson.
  2. The research project was conducted by Clemson University.
  3. The championship trophy was held by the Clemson Tigers.

Active voice:

  1. Clemson won the football game.
  2. Clemson University conducted the research project.
  3. The Clemson Tigers held the championship trophy.


Genres or contexts that often use passive voice:

  1. Scientific or academic writing: Passive voice is commonly used in scientific research papers, technical reports, and academic articles to emphasize objectivity and focus on the results or findings rather than the individuals involved.
  2. Formal business writing: Passive voice is frequently employed in formal business documents, such as reports, proposals, and official correspondence, to convey a sense of professionalism and maintain a neutral tone.
  3. Legal writing: Passive voice is prevalent in legal documents, including contracts, statutes, and court opinions, as it allows for precise and objective descriptions of actions without highlighting specific parties involved.
  4. News reporting: Passive voice is sometimes used in news articles, particularly when reporting on sensitive or controversial topics, to avoid attributing actions to specific individuals or organizations and maintain a neutral stance.

Genres or contexts that often use active voice:

  1. Narrative and creative writing: Active voice is commonly found in storytelling, novels, short stories, and other creative works, as it brings a sense of immediacy, engagement, and liveliness to the narrative.
  2. Persuasive and argumentative writing: Active voice is frequently employed in persuasive essays, opinion pieces, and argumentative writing, as it allows writers to present their viewpoints assertively and directly, engaging the reader more effectively.
  3. Personal writing: Active voice is often used in personal narratives, journals, and reflective writing, as it allows the writer to express their experiences, emotions, and thoughts in a direct and personal manner.
  4. Informal or conversational writing: Active voice is commonly used in informal writing, such as emails, blog posts, social media updates, and casual correspondence, to maintain a conversational tone and establish a connection with the reader.

It's important to note that these are general guidelines, and the use of active or passive voice may vary within each genre depending on the specific context and writer's intention. Flexibility and a clear understanding of the genre and audience are key in determining the appropriate voice to use in your writing.

Recognizing Passive Voice

Passive voice is a grammatical construction in which the subject of a sentence receives the action of the verb, rather than performing the action itself. 

Here are a few things to look for and keep in mind when considering passive voice:

  • Structure: Passive voice typically consists of the auxiliary verb "be" (in various tenses) followed by the past participle of the main verb. For example, "The paper was written by the Tiger Writer."
  • Focus on the receiver: Passive voice places emphasis on the object or recipient of the action rather than the doer. This can be useful when the doer is unknown, unimportant, or intentionally being omitted from the sentence.
  • Object promoted to subject: In passive voice, the object of an active voice sentence becomes the subject. This allows for a different sentence structure and a shift in focus.
  • Formality and objectivity: Passive voice is often associated with formal and objective writing styles. It is commonly used in academic, scientific, and technical contexts where an impersonal tone and emphasis on the action or result is preferred.
  • Clarity and readability: While passive voice has its uses, it can sometimes make sentences less clear or less direct compared to active voice. Active voice often provides a more straightforward and concise way to express ideas.
  • Writing style and tone: The choice between active and passive voice can influence the overall tone and style of your writing. Active voice tends to be more engaging, dynamic, and direct, while passive voice can be more detached or distant.

Using passive voice is not inherently incorrect, but it's important to consider the context, purpose, and audience of your writing. It's generally recommended to use active voice for most situations, as it often leads to clearer and more engaging communication. However, passive voice can be appropriate and effective in specific cases, such as when the emphasis is on the object, when the doer is unknown, or when the passive construction better suits the overall tone and style of your writing.

Recognizing Passive Voice

Active voice is a grammatical construction in which the subject of a sentence performs the action expressed by the verb.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about active voice:

  • Structure: Active voice typically follows a subject-verb-object pattern, where the subject is the doer of the action and the verb directly relates to the subject. For example, "The Tiger Writer wrote the paper."
  • Clarity and directness: Active voice allows for clear and straightforward communication. It makes it evident who is performing the action, providing a more immediate and engaging style of writing.
  • Subject promoted to focus: In active voice, the subject takes the center stage as the primary focus of the sentence. It highlights the agency and responsibility of the subject in performing the action.
  • Simplicity and brevity: Active voice often leads to shorter and more concise sentences. By eliminating unnecessary words or phrases, active voice contributes to a more streamlined writing style.
  • Engaging and dynamic: Active voice is generally preferred in most types of writing because it creates a sense of energy and involvement. It helps maintain reader interest and promotes a stronger connection between the reader and the text.
  • Everyday and informal usage: Active voice is commonly used in everyday conversations, informal writing, and narrative contexts. It lends itself well to storytelling, personal anecdotes, and expressing personal opinions or experiences.

Using active voice is generally recommended as it enhances clarity, conciseness, and reader engagement. It conveys information in a direct and compelling manner, making your writing more effective and enjoyable to read. However, it's important to consider the specific context and purpose of your writing, as there may be instances where passive voice is more appropriate or necessary to achieve your desired tone or emphasis.

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