Active vs. Passive Voice - All You Need To Know

Suitable for Grade 6+ and ESL learners

English verbs have many different features and can adapt themselves by using numbers and tenses, but one crucial feature is the use of voice. Voice refers to the relationship between the action and the participants of that action. One relationship is active voice, and the other one is passive voice.

Active voice is the more common option, and many English teachers push students to use that form because it sounds more substantial. However, there are a few instances when passive voice is appropriate.

Below are some helpful tips, examples, flashcards, and quizzes for understanding active voice vs. passive voice, along with examples to help you use both forms.

active vs passive voice test

What is the Active Voice?

In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs or does the action. This makes the sentence sound strong and clear.

To form an active voice in English, use a regular, conjugated verb like this;

Subject + Verb + Object

  • Danny gave me a book.
  • My grandad baked a cake.
  • The dog bit Tommy on the arm.

Flip the flashcards for more examples.

  1. The dog caught the ball. (catch.)
  2. Nadia watches the soccer game. (Watch.)
  3. We will eat dinner at your house tomorrow. (Eat.)

In the first example, the dog is the sentence subject. The dog did the action; it caught the ball. 

In the second, the subject is "Nadia." What does Nadia do? Nadia watches the soccer game. So, Nadia is the action taker in the sentence.

In the final example, "we" is the subject, and "will eat" is the active voice verb. What will we do? We will eat; we will do the action tomorrow.

An active voice sentence is straightforward and handy in most writing situations and is more compelling to read.

Flashcard Examples

What's the passive voice?

Passive verbs are also useful when you want to highlight the recipient of the action. You may not want to mention who is doing the action, don't know who it is, or are not essential. Or, you just want the recipient to be the focus.

To form the passive voice in English, we use the following structure.

Object + verb + subject

  • The book was given to me by Danny.
  • The cake was baked by my Grandad.
  • His arm was bitten by the dog.

Flip the flashcards for more examples.

  1. The body was found at midnight. 
  2. The rumor was spread throughout the school. 
  3. The new species of spider was discovered on Saturday. 

In the first example, we don't know who found the body. Perhaps the police didn't want to reveal a name yet.

In the second example, we don't know who spread the rumor. Since we don't know, we can use the passive voice.

In the third example, the important part of the sentence is the spider, not the person who discovered it.

Flashcard Examples

Everyday Uses of The Passive Voice

Another everyday use of the passive voice is with signage. You may see notices that say, "Tickets are sold at the box office" or "Shoes are worn at all times." Here, the passive voice sounds authoritative.

Passive voice can sound fancy, but you shouldn't use it just for that, as if you rely on it, your writing will sound clunky and confusing. So, when you use a passive voice sentence, make sure you have a reason for doing so.

Also, keep in mind that specific disciplines prefer using passive voice. For instance, researchers and academics may prefer to use the passive voice in published articles. Journalists also use the passive voice if they need to conceal certain information or want to stress a particular part of the sentence. Take a look at the following examples and see if you can practice changing them into the active voice.

  • The book was brought by Sally.
  • Sunsets are loved by her.
  • She will forever be remembered.
  • Costa Rica is known for its national parks.
  • The legislation was passed by Congress.

Takeaways

You can practice switching sentences between active and passive voice when you're writing. Scroll through the slideshow to see how you can do it with a simple example, and try it out for yourself.

Active voice example

Active vs. Passive Voice

Take the sentence,

  • Javier eats dinner.

Who does the eating in this sentence? Javier. What gets eaten? The dinner. In this sentence, the subject is Javier, and the object is dinner. Since the subject does the action, it's an active voice sentence.

So, how do we make this into a sentence using the passive voice?

passive voice example

Active vs. Passive Voice

Well, we change the verb; we're using to be + the past participle of "eat." which is eaten. When we do this, the dinner moves to the beginning of the sentence.

So we get the following:

  • The dinner was eaten (by Javier.) - Passive voice.
active vs. passive voice examples

Active vs. Passive Voice

When you change a sentence from active to passive, you don't necessarily need the subject anymore. You can put it at the end, often with the preposition "by," or leave it off altogether. So we could say, "The dinner was eaten by Javier" or, simply, "The dinner was eaten. "

Passive Voice to Active Voice Practice

How about we reverse it and go from passive to active voice?

Let's take the sentence:

  • "Rachel was fired from her job." - Passive voice

The passive verb "was fired," and the object was "Rachel," but it doesn't have a subject. We know someone fired her, but we don't know who it is.

So if you want to switch from passive to active voice, you may need to add some information.

If we know who fired her, we could say:

  • "The manager fired Rachel." Now we have a perfect active voice sentence!

Active vs. Passive Quiz

Think you've got the hang of it? Try this multiple-choice quiz.

Is the following sentence in the active or passive voice? Gerry eats dinner with her family every night.

Choose the best answer from the choices below

Possible answers

Is the following sentence in the active or passive voice? The jewels were stolen.

Choose the best answer from the choices below

Possible answers

Which of the following sentences are written in the active voice?

Choose the best answer from the choices below

Possible answers

Which of the following sentences are written in the passive voice?

Choose the best answer from the choices below

Possible answers

Conclusion

Don't worry about confusing active and passive voice! It sounds complicated, but you'll get the hang of it with a bit of practice. Just remember to look for who does the action and who receives the action. And most of the time, try to write in the active voice.

Check out the other grammar articles on our site for more tips and tricks. You'll be an English pro in no time!