Active vs Passive Voice
How to Understand the Difference Between Passive and Active Sentences
Once you've learned the concepts and practiced a little, the difference between active and passive sentences isn't too difficult to figure out. Stop and take the time to think about what a sentence is focused on, and look for telltale signs of a passive verb. Armed with this knowledge, you can make strong statements that encourage your reader or listener to focus on the subject you want to discuss.
Try out this example first.Look at this sentence:"The thiefsmashedthe window."The red section, "The thief," is thesubjectof the sentence, or the one doing the action. The purple section, "smashed," is theverb, or action. The blue section, "the window," is theobject: something is happening to it. Keep reading for more explanation, and look back at this example sentence to follow along.
Understand the subject of an active sentence.In an active sentence, the subject is whateverdoessomething. It can be a person, a place, a thing, or even an idea. Here are some examples, with the subject in red:
- Every morning,the sunrises.
- The tall womanwill brush her teeth.
- Your braverysaved the town.
Find the verbs in active sentences.In active sentences, the verb describes what the subject does. It can also describe what the subject did in the past, or will do in the future. Here are some examples, with the verb colored purple:
- The treegrewvery tall.
- My enemyis planninghis attack.
Learn about the object of the sentence.In many active sentence, but not all of them, an actionis done tosomething else. Here are examples, with the object colored blue:
- The dog atethe meat.
- The explorers discovereda new river.
Figure out how to tell the subject and object apart.If you're not sure whether something is the subject or object, find yourself the verb and ask yourself "Whatis (verb)-ing?" to find the subject.Ask "Whatis being (verb)ed?" to find the object. Here's an example of a tricky sentence, step by step:
- "Everything in the world irritates her."
- Find the verb. The only word that describes an action is "irritates", so "irritates" must be the verb.
- Find the subject. What is irritating? "Everything in the world" is irritating, so the entire phrase "Everything in the world" is the subject.
- Find the object. What is being irritated? The person described as"her"is being irritated, so "her" is the object.
Look at this example."The ballis thrownbythe athlete."In this passive sentence, thesubjectis "The ball". Theverb, "was thrown", describes what happened to the ball. Theagent, the thing that did the action, is "the athlete".
Understand the subject of a passive sentence.The subject of a passive sentence ishaving something done to it. This can be any noun: a person, place, thing, or idea. Here are some examples, with the subject written in red:
- This essaywas written last year.
- The delicious dinnerwas cooked by a professional cook.
- Elephantsare protected from hunters by international law.
Understand the verb in a passive sentence.In a passive sentence, something happens to the subject. The verb is the action that happens. It begins with a "to be" verb (for example, "is," "was," "were," "has been," "will have been"), then a verb in a past tense.Here are some examples with the verb colored purple:
- The citywas destroyedby the meteor.
- All the ice creamhad been eatenalready.
- The musicwas playedbeautifully.
Find the agent in a passive sentence.Many passive sentences do not include the agent at all. If an agent is present, it describes what did the action. It usually comes at the end of the sentence, after the word "by." Here are some examples, with the agent colored brown:
- The child was raised byher mother.
- World War I was started byan assassin.
Tell the subject and agent apart.Remember, apassivesentence is about a subject that something is happening to. Find the verb and ask "What (verb)?" to find the subject. To find the agent, if there is one in the sentence, rephrase the sentence to ask "Who is (verb)ing? Here's a difficult example, step by step:
- "None of them had been so badly treated by their own teacher before."
- Find the passive verb. This sentence might sound confusing, because the writer has added some adverbs in the middle of the verb! The full verb is "had been(...)treated". If it makes the sentence easier to follow, you can treat the verb as "had been so badly treated."
- Find the subject.What had been so badly treated?None of themhad been so badly treated. "None of them" is the subject of the sentence.
- Find the agent.Who had treated "none of them" so badly before?Their own teacherhad treated "none of them" so badly before. "Their own teacher" is the agent of the passive sentence.
Telling Them Apart
Look for a passive verb.Passive verbs include a form of "to be" as well as a past tense verb. For example, "was bitten" or "been blessed." This is one of the easiest ways to tell a passive sentence apart, but the next step is also useful for figuring out difficult sentences, and becoming familiar with how passive and active sentences work.
Rephrase the sentence and look at word order.Read the sentence, think about what it means, and try to describe the topic as an active sentence: "someone that did something." If the order of words is the same as the original sentence, the sentence is active. If you had to change the order, the sentence is probably passive. Here are some examples:
- "The flower bloomed every night." This sentence is about "a flower that bloomed." You didn't have to change the sentence to say that, so it's an active sentence.
- "The river was crossed by the oxen. This sentence is about "oxen that crossed a river." You had to change the order of the nouns (river and oxen), so the original sentence is passive.
- "The book was written two hundred years ago." This sentence is about "Someone that wrote a book." You had to add a whole new noun (someone) to guess at who did the writing! The original sentence is definitely passive.
When to Use Active Versus Passive
Use passive sentences when the "doer" of the action is unimportant or unknown.For example, "This cave painting was created thousands of years ago." is a good passive sentence. It focuses the attention right on what you want to talk about, the cave painting. The active version of this sentence "Someone created this cave painting thousands of years ago," adds unnecessary words (someone) and makes the topic of the sentence ("this cave painting") harder to find. Here are additional examples:
- "I can't text right now. My phone is being repaired." is more useful than "I can't text right now. The electronics store staff is repairing my phone."
- "Our son Robert was delivered at County Hospital last night!" tells your family the news it wants to hear right away. "The doctors at County Hospital delivered our son Robert last night!" puts the focus on the doctors, whom Uncle Joe probably doesn't care about.
Use passive sentences to avoid blaming anyone.If someone did something embarrassing, you can use a passive verb to avoid calling attention to him.For example, say "The lamp was broken." instead of "John broke the lamp" if you want to tell everyone that you need a new lamp, without making John feel bad. (Even the active sentence "Someone broke the lamp" may start an argument over who did it.)
- This use comes up often in politics and news announcements. Keep an eye out for a celebrity, politician, or company spokesman that says "Mistakes were made." so they can avoid admitting that "I made mistakes."
Try to use active sentences in most other circumstances.In most cases, an active verb makes a sentence more forceful and easier to follow. When you write a passive sentence, stop and try to rewrite it as an active sentence. It's not always necessary, but it often forces you to improve your writing and think harder about what you're trying to say.For example:
- "Slaves were treated badly in the early US." can be rewritten as "___ treated slaves badly in the early US." Depending on your point, you might use the subject "slave owners," "the judicial system," or one of many other nouns.
- "Cancer has been called the most dangerous threat to senior citizens." makes a claim without referring to a source. Rewrite this as "___ calls cancer the most dangerous threat to senior citizens." If you are not sure what the subject of this new active sentence is, you might not have enough evidence to make this claim.
QuestionIn the sentence: "The key was used to open the lock" -- is this active or passive?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerPassive. The subject (the key) did not directly do the unlocking. If the sentence was active, it would read "The key opened the lock."Thanks!
QuestionCould a passive verb be at the end of a sentence?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerRarely in a natural construction. For example, you could rearrange the passive sentence "The cake was eaten by Beth" using inverted sentence structure (anastrophe) to get "By Beth the cake was eaten." Though not strictly incorrect, such a structure would very rarely be used in a natural conversational or written context, though you might find it in some types of poetry and perhaps religious texts. It's kind of a forced sentence type and most likely to be used either for a dramatic effect or to fit the flow/rhyme of a poem.Thanks!
QuestionWhat is the active voice in "The flower is bloomed."wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerFirst of all, we have to identify the doer of the action. The doer of the action is usually followed by the word "by". Since the given sentence does not have a doer, we can't transform it into active voice.Thanks!
Question"The key was used to open the lock" active or passive? Wouldn't "The lock was opened by the key" the passive version?Top Answerer"The key opened the lock" is an active sentence.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I change the sentence, "Send for the doctor at once."?Top AnswererYou have cited an imperative sentence (a command). Changing between passive and active involves only declarative and interrogative sentences.Thanks!
QuestionIs a sentence always going to be passive or active in every case?Top AnswererA linking verb (a form of "to be") is neither active nor passive. Examples: "I am happy." "The boy was sad." "The girl will be glad to see you." "He cannot be there tonight." "I would have been angry if I'd known about it."Thanks!
QuestionWhat is the difference between in active and passive voice?Top AnswererThe meaning is often the same in either case. Active voice is simply stronger and more direct than passive voice.Thanks!
To understand the difference between passive and active sentences, first identify the subject of the sentence and determine if it’s doing something or having something done to it. For example, in “The dog walked,” “dog” is the subject and since it’s doing something, the sentence is active. Conversely, if the sentence read, “The dog was groomed,” the subject is being acted upon, so the sentence is passive. If you still have a hard time telling the difference, keep in mind that passive verbs include some form of “to be” along with a past tense verb, such as “was given.”
- If you are having trouble finding the agent in a complex passive sentence, think about who you would blame (or praise) for the action. For example, "Every Thursday night, the carefully tended gardens of the royal family were trampled by the rude deer from Mr. Smith's nearby yard." There are many nouns in this sentence, but only the agent of the sentence can be blamed for the trampling: the rude deer.
- Not every verb with "have" or a form of "to be" is a passive verb.The sentence "The president has been tired." is an active sentence, using the active, past tense verb "has been" and the adjective "tired." Remember, a passive verb hasbotha form of the verb "to be"anda past tense verb of its own.
Video: Active vs. Passive Voice | Grammar Lessons
Solids 101: The Beginners Guide to Starting Baby Food
How to Make Glue Stick Slime
How to Effectively Use Internet Time
Should You Weigh Yourself Every Day
How to Make a Birthday Mug Cake
How to Convince Your Parents to Let You Get an Email Address
(, ) – – Diabetes (Madhumeh) Diet Chart in Hindi
How to Know When Its Time to Break-Up
13 Things Women Think Guys Want in Bed (But They Dont)