What is the Passive Voice and Should it Ever Be Used Instead of the Active Voice?

what is the passive voice

When we express ourselves, our sentences are often filled with actions, describing what someone or something does. But how we frame these actions can dramatically change the focus of our sentence.

This difference is described by two grammatical terms you might have heard of: active voice and passive voice. Getting to grips with both can really boost your ability to communicate more effectively and with flair!

What is the passive voice and what is the active voice?

You probably already know the difference between active voice and passive voice, but just to recap, the active voice is when the subject of the sentence performs an action. For example, “The chef cooks the meal.”

The passive voice, on the other hand, shifts the focus from the subject to the action or the object receiving the action. The same sentence in passive voice would be, “The meal is cooked by the chef.”

Comparing the passive and the active voice

Example 1:

Active: “The cat chased the mouse.”

Passive: “The mouse was chased by the cat.”

In the active voice, the subject (the cat) is doing the action. In the passive voice, the focus is on the action itself or the object receiving the action (the mouse).

The significance of the passive voice

The passive voice isn’t just about style; it’s really important in many types of writing and speaking. It’s important because it can change what parts of a sentence we pay attention to. Let’s look at when using the passive voice can be really helpful:

  • Focusing on what or who is affected: Sometimes, what happens or what is affected by an action is more important than who or what is doing it. The passive voice helps to show this by concentrating more on the action or its result.
  • When who did it doesn’t matter: If it’s not important to know who did something, the passive voice is a great way to express that. It lets you talk about an action without saying who performed it.
  • Being polite or indirect: The passive voice can make you sound more neutral. This is especially useful if you want to avoid finger-pointing – for instance, saying “Mistakes were made” doesn’t blame anyone directly, whereas saying “Elliot made a mistake” does!
  • Variation in sentence structure: Using the passive voice can make your writing more interesting. It adds variety to how sentences are built, which can make your English sound more advanced.
  • Technical or scientific writing: In formal writing like scientific reports, the focus is often on the work done or results rather than who did the experiment. The passive voice fits well here because it highlights the results or the process.

Choosing the right voice

Choosing between the active and passive voice goes beyond just basic grammar rules; it’s really about what you want your message to convey. The active voice is known for being straightforward and lively, while the passive voice lets you highlight the details of the action or who is affected by it.

This decision can really change how what you’re saying or writing comes across, guiding your audience to focus on what you think is most important.

Elevate your English skills with the right voice

Getting good at using both active and passive voice is key for anyone learning English. It’s not just about getting the grammar right, but also about making your stories and messages clearer and more impactful.

Why not try our English Online courses? From mastering details like the passive voice to broadening your vocabulary, we’re here to help you on your language learning journey.

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