September 24, 2015

What’s the Difference Between the Active and Passive Voice?

2 minute read

Did you know that all verbs have a voice?

The “voice” of a verb shows the relationship the subject of the sentence has to the action that is described by the verb.

They can be either active – or passive. But what do these really mean, and how are they used?

Read on to find out!

What is the active voice?

We usually think of verbs as “doing” words. They describe an action – like running, walking, eating, making and many more.

The active voice is actually the most common voice used, and it describes the subject actually doing the action.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

“She ate the cake.”

“He’s running a marathon.”

“I am waiting for a phone call.”

In all of these examples, you can see that the subject of each sentence is directly carrying out the action being described – eating, running and waiting.

As well as that, the verb is happening to the object of each sentence.

Simple enough, right?

What is the passive voice?

The passive voice is less common. Unlike the active voice, this describes a verb being happened to the subject of the sentence, rather than the subject carrying it out.

In this way, the action is said to be “passive”.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

“The cake was eaten by the girls.”

“The fish was caught by the bear.”

“The books were collected by him.”

You can see that the examples above contain the word “was”. This is because to form the passive voice, you use the verb “to be” with the past participle – so you use “was eaten”, “was caught” and “were collected”.

You can also use the word “got” to create the passive voice. For example:

“The prisoner got caught by the guards.”

You can also highlight who is actually doing the action in a passive voice sentence, by using the word “by”.

For example:

“The girl was picked up by her mother.”

So what’s the difference between the passive and active voice? To take a closer look, let’s review some of the examples from above:

In the passive voice you would say”

“The prisoner got caught by the guards.”

The prisoner is the subject of the sentence here, and the guards are the object.

In the active voice, this would be reversed – but the meaning would still be the same:

“The guards caught the prisoner.”

Can you see the difference?

So when would you use each voice? The active voice is the one used most often, in everyday conversation and in most writing.

But the passive voice is used when you want to draw attention to the thing the verb is happening to, rather than what is doing it.

Your turn

The active and passive voice can be found all around you – you just need to look out for it! So pay attention when you’re reading, listening to the radio or watching TV. See if you can spot the difference between the active and passive voice – and see if you can tell why each voice was used.

You might also like to play with switching sentences between voices to see the difference it makes!