What is Active Voice?

In writing, voice is either active or passive. Your choice will depend on your goal.

Active voice assigns direct responsibility, makes the writing move.

Passive voice slows the pace and takes the focus off of the actor, putting it on the action. 

A Look at Passive Voice

Every sentence has a subject and a verb. In passive voice, actions happen to the subject. 

For example:

The book was read by the teacher.

The car was driven by John's son.

In these sentences, the focus is on the verb - the action - instead of the subject - the actor.

Passive voice is villainized in writing circles. Yet, used with care, it can serve many functions. 

It can:

  • Slow the pace of the writing.
  • Change the focus of the piece
  • Other reasons to use passive voice include:
  • If the writer does not know who was taking the action
  • If the action, event or result is the focus of the writing.
  • If the writer is trying to shift responsibility for the action off of the subject.
  • If there would be too many words between the subject and the action for the sentence to flow smoothly.

To find out if you're using passive voice, look for the word "by." The action was done by the subject. This is a sure sign of passive voice.

Mastering Active Voice

In contrast to passive voice, active voice moves the writing, setting a faster pace.

Most of the time, this is the voice you want to use. 


Active writing keeps readers interested. It's the difference between watching a compelling action movie and watching grass grow.

Let's look at our examples from above in active form:

The teacher read the book.

John's son drove the car.

In each of these sentences, you know exactly who is doing what. You know that John's son is driving that car. No one else. Responsibility is clear. 

Keep your reader engaged by setting a brisk pace in your writing. 

Use active verbs like:

  • ate
  • bolted
  • craved
  • demands

Help your reader see what is happening. If your writing paints a clear picture, one that moves and keeps the reader pinned to the page, you will have mastered active voice. 

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