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Active vs. Passive Study Guide

Quick overview

The difference between active voice and passive can be the difference between a reader understanding a sentence and being confused by a sentence. And what's good is that they are actually very simple to recognize.

Easy definitions and examples

In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action.

Example: Steve loves Amy.

In passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position.

Example: Amy is loved by Steve.

Is the verb "to be" a passive sentence construction?

A lot of people think that all sentences that contain a form of the verb "to be" are in passive voice, but that isn't true.

Example: I am holding a pen.
Explanation: This is in active voice because the subject, "I," is performing the action of holding the pen. The passive form of this sentence would be "The pen is being held by me."

Is passive voice wrong?

Passive sentences aren't necessarily incorrect, but they can be awkward, vague, and wordy. And when you put sentences in passive voice, it's easy to leave out the person or thing performing the action.

Example: Amy is loved.
Explanation: This sentence is not wrong, but because it is passive, it is somewhat unclear. We know that someone or something loves Amy, but we don't know who or what specifically loves her.

Practice!

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Active and Passive Voice

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