The Voice: Active versus Passive

Verbs are words that represent action. The form of every verb changes according to the tense, mood, and voice. This article will tackle on the last factor, the voice, which is also called diathesis. It shows the relationship between the action and the doer through its object and other determiners.

There are two kinds of voices. In Active Voice, the subject is the doer of the action while in Passive Voice, the subject is the object or receiver of the action.

Observe these sentences:

  1. The students watched the grand float parade.
  2. The grand float parade was watched by the students.

Sentence 1 is in active voice because the doer (the students) of the action (watched) is the subject. Sentence 2 is in passive voice because the receiver (the grand float parade) of the action is the subject.

There is a pattern in determining whether a sentence has a passive or active voice. If the doer of the action is at the start of the sentence, it is passive.

Active voice: Subject + transitive verb + object/receiver of the action

Passive voice: Object/receiver + verb + by + subject

With this, you can actually change the voice of a sentence from passive into active and vice versa.

Active voice

Passive voice

Christian ate all the pizzas. All the pizzas were eaten by Christian.
The managers led the FAM Tour for the delegates. The Fam Tour was led by the managers for the delegates.
Only one read the manuals. The manuals were read by only one.
Her father scolded her for failing a subject. She was scolded by her father for failing a subject.
The kid nudged the table. The table was nudged by the kid.
A blind man asked me money. I was asked money by a blind man.
People polluted the ocean. The ocean was polluted by the people.
We danced the waltz around the halls. The waltz was danced by us around the halls.
The old woman shooed the birds away. The birds were shooed away by the old woman.
David picked up the students from Manila.  The students were picked up by David from Manila.

Always use the active voice as it conveys the message in a concise and clear manner.

But remember that passive voice has a purpose, too.

  • To emphasize the action rather than the doer
  • To keep the subject and action consistent
  • To be careful by not naming the doer
  • To identify a situation wherein the doer has no significance
  • To establish the authority in tone