Introduction to Active and Passive Voice


Remember the basic sentence? For this unit, you’ll need to be able to identify the subject and verb in a sentence.

In most sentences, the subject of the sentence performs the action of the verb. This type of sentence is said to be in the active voice.

In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence does not perform the action; instead, it receives the action of the verb.

Although passive voice sentences are grammatically correct, active voice sentences are clearer and stronger.


This video explains active and passive voice using two scenarios.

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The difference between active and passive voice focuses on this question:

Is the subject doing the action or having something done to it?

Consider this example:


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The subject the new parking rule is receiving the students’ criticism. This sentence is grammatically correct; as readers, we understand it. Because this sentence is in the passive voice, however, readers have to adjust their expectations. Readers expect sentences to tell them who or what is doing something. Passive voice sentences reverse that expectation by telling that something is being done to someone or something.

Examine this revision:


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Now, the subject the students performed the action criticized. Readers can quickly figure out who is doing what.

Another way to identify passive voice is to notice the verb. In this example, the verb was criticized is composed of a form of the verb to be and a past participle. Simply put, to find a passive voice sentence by looking at the verb, ask these questions:

If the answer is no to any of the questions, the sentence is not in the passive voice. Keeping track of what the verbs are called—helping verbs, past participles—is less important than being able to spot a passive voice verb by noticing that it has two parts:

Whether you learn to look for passive voice by asking questions about the subject or by asking questions about the verb’s form, revising sentences to use the active voice will make your writing clearer.


The study pages explain in more detail how to examine subjects and verb forms in order to determine whether a sentence is in the active or passive voice. The pages also give strategies for revising passive voice sentences to use active voice.

As you read through the study pages and then practice with LearningCurve, try to work through the examples with these main questions:

Checking for passive voice will help you on the post-test (if assigned) and in your own writing.

Don’t forget to work smartly!