Do you constantly hear about writing in the “active” or “passive” voice? Are you confused by what this actually means and how it could impact your writing?
Read on for what the difference is between the active and passive voice and why it is important to know.
What Is Active Voice?
When you use “active voice”, the subject is performing the action.
What Is Passive Voice?
In a passive sentence the subject (or the person doing the action) is right at the end. Using passive voice tends to slow your writing down and distances your reader from the action.
Examples of active vs passive sentences:
Active: I love you.
Passive: You are loved by me.
Active: The woman read her book.
Passive: The book was read by the woman.
Active: He rode his motorbike over the jump.
Passive: The motorbike was ridden over the jump by him.
Can you see the difference in these sentences? Which sentence is more powerful?
Is it wrong to use passive voice?
It is not wrong. However, it is not the best way to phrase sentences as it can be awkward and hard to understand. Using the passive voice can also create lengthy sentences (as evidenced by the examples above).
When can you use passive voice?
In your writing it is a good idea to use the passive voice if you wish to place emphasis on the action, as opposed to the person performing the action. Many crime and mystery writers use this technique to highlight certain events that are pivotal to their story.
Example: The dog was stolen (passive).
Somebody stole the dog (active).
The mystery writer wanted to highlight the missing dog that is central to the plot, thereby used a more passive style of sentence.
How do you change your sentences to active voice?
Generally speaking, changing a sentence to be more active is easy. You simply bring whomever, or whatever, is performing the action of the sentence to the beginning. This usually fixes most issues with passive sentences.
Fixing passive sentences can happen when you are revising and editing, however it is handy to be able to spot them as you write.
Try reading your sentences out loud. When you write sentences with active voice, your story moves faster. When you use the passive voice, you tend to use more helping verbs and it slows the action down. How do your sentences sound? Is it the focus you were going for?
I hope this helps you with your writing. If anyone else has advice on passive and active voice I would love to hear it!