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  • Writer's pictureLeah Geller

What's the big deal about the active voice?

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

You've likely been told at some point in your academic or professional career that you need to write in the active voice. But what exactly is the active voice and why is it important?

Defining the active voice

Writing in the active voice means that your sentence has a subject (actor) that acts upon its object (recipient). For example:

  • The dog (subject) chased after the tennis ball (object).

  • Researchers (subject) analyzed data (object) showing that diesel exhaust affects brain function.

By contrast, in the passive voice, the object (recipient) begins the sentence, and the subject (actor) follows. For example:

  • The tennis ball (object) was chased after by the dog (subject).

  • The data (object) showing that diesel exhaust affects brain function was analyzed by researchers (subject).

Why should you write in the active voice?

A sentence written in the active voice is clearer, easier to read and has more energy. The active voice can also sound more authoritative and credible, as it states the subject up front.

Passive voice sentences, on the other hand, often use more words and can lead to a tangle of prepositional phrases such as "by the" or "to its." As a result, they are usually more difficult to read. Passive voice sentences can also sound vague and evasive, especially if you remove the subject altogether.

When you can use the passive voice

There are times when the passive voice does a better job of presenting an idea. For example, you may want to emphasize the object, or the subject may be either unimportant or unknown. For example:

  • COVID-19 vaccines (object) were carefully reviewed and approved by Health Canada (subject) for use in children. (emphasis is on the object)

  • The new CEO (object) was sworn in on Monday. (the subject is unimportant)

  • The zero-emission buses (object) were distributed to 25 transit hubs across the region. (the subject is unknown)

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1 commento

Cheryl Stephens
Cheryl Stephens
15 mar 2023

For those who hate thinking in grammatical terms, just keep the action moving forward--neither backward nor stationary.

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