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What is Passive Voice? Passive and Active Verbs - When to Use the Passive Voice in Writing

Updated on July 16, 2015

What is the Passive Voice?

Generally, the active voice is preferred over the passive voice in writing. With the active voice, the subject does the action of the sentence. With the passive voice, the subject receives the action, in effect becoming an object of the verb. Using the active voice makes writing more...hmmm, what's the word? Active! Yes, it makes the writing more active, as it comes more alive! And the reader knowing who is completing the action of the sentence is usually important and something the reader does want to know. Still, there are situations in which the use of the passive voice is acceptable and even more appropriate. We'll look at such instances.

Example of Passive Voice

"Inconvenience caused is regretted." Passive voice shifts the blame from who caused it. Active voice would take the blame: "We regret any inconvenience we've caused."
"Inconvenience caused is regretted." Passive voice shifts the blame from who caused it. Active voice would take the blame: "We regret any inconvenience we've caused." | Source

When is Using the Passive Voice Appropriate?

The passive voice can be used to take the focus off the subject and onto the part of the sentence that needs to be emphasized. Sometimes what took place is more important than who made it happen. In other words, the recipient of the action, or the action itself, is sometimes more relevant than the doer of the action in the sentence. When this is the case, the passive voice is preferred.

Example of Passive Voice: "Each student was given a chance to improve his or her grade."

There is no action verb in this sentence. The passive construction of the verb "was given" makes the subject of "each student" a passive recipient of the action.

Example of Active Voice: "The teacher gave every student a chance to improve his or her grade."

The point, though, is that every student got a chance. Using the active voice with "the teacher" puts the focus back on the teacher and how great it is that he or she gave the students a chance, when what we really want to focus on is that they got the chance, regardless of who gave it to them. Of course, if we are wanting to point out the teacher's positive qualities, the active voice would be more appropriate, as we are trying to show how fair that particular teacher is in giving every student a chance.

One commonly heard example of passive voice used by the government perhaps is effective in its attempt to avoid blame by diverting the action from the subject. The obviousness of who is at fault is lessened. For example, haven't you heard political figures say, "Mistakes were made" instead of "I made a mistake" or "We made a mistake"? Use of the passive voice here is a great way to avoid blame and almost say, "I didn't do it!" Try that the next time you mess up.

"I'm sorry, honey. Mistakes were made!"

Quiz: Passive vs. Active Voice

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I hope this hub was helpful! Feel free to take the quiz, and then leave any comments. Also, check out my other grammar hubs, if you'd like.


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