What Is Active Voice in Writing? Engage Your Readers Now

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Julia McCoy

Creator and Co-founder

what is active voice in writing

Have you ever wondered why some sentences seem to effortlessly capture your attention while others fall flat? One key element that can make a significant difference in writing is the use of active voice. What is active voice in writing?

Active voice is a grammatical structure in which the subject of a sentence performs the action expressed by the verb. We often change passive voice to active voice not only to improve clarity but also to make your writing more engaging and dynamic.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into what exactly active voice is, why it’s important for effective communication, and how you can easily incorporate it into your writing. Whether you’re a student or professional, knowing how to use active voice in writing can elevate your content pieces to new heights.

Table Of Contents:

What Is Active Voice in Writing?

You’ve probably heard it a million times from your English teacher: “Use active voice in your writing.”

But what does that mean and why is it such a big deal?

Active voice means the subject of your sentence is performing the action. It’s direct, clear, and well, active.

Like this:

The dog chases the ball.

Here, the subject (the dog) is doing the chasing. It’s an active sentence that gets straight to the point.

A few more examples of active voice:

  • The chef cooked the meal to perfection.
  • She is going to bed.
  • I wrote the report yesterday.

In each case, the subject (chef, she, I) is doing something. There’s no question about who’s performing the action.

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

So what about passive voice? In a passive sentence, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position.

Like this:

The ball was chased by the dog.

See how the ball (the object) comes before the action (was chased)? That’s passive voice.

The focus shifts from the doer (the dog) to the thing being acted upon (the ball).

While passive voice isn’t grammatically incorrect, it can make your writing feel awkward, indirect, wordy, and well, a little dull.

Active voice, on the other hand, tends to be crisper, clearer, and more engaging.

In any writing class, it is recommended to avoid passive voice and focus on the sentence subject.

Benefits of Using Active Voice

So why is your teacher always harping on about using active voice? Turns out, there are some pretty compelling reasons to make it your go-to.

Clarity and Directness

The biggest advantage of writing in an active voice is that it makes your sentence crystal clear. There’s no ambiguity about who’s doing what. Your reader doesn’t have to untangle the sentence structure to figure out what’s going on.

Let’s look at an example:

Passive: The cake was eaten by the kids.

Active: The kids ate the cake.

The active version is so much more straightforward, right? We know exactly who did the eating without having to think twice.

Stronger and More Engaging Writing

Active voice doesn’t just make your writing clearer – it makes it more compelling too. By putting the focus on the subject, your sentences have more oomph and energy.

For example:

The race ended with an unexpected champion: the underdog. They said it couldn’t be done, but the underestimated competitor proved them all wrong by securing the victory.

Can you feel the difference? The active sentence packs way more punch. We can visualize the underdog surging across the finish line, tasting their victory.

Improved Readability

Here’s the thing: Our brains are wired to understand active voice more easily than passive.

Active sentences flow logically from subject to verb to object, mirroring how we process information.

Passive voice, on the other hand, requires more mental gymnastics. We have to flip the sentence around in our heads, puzzling out who did what to whom. All that extra work can slow down your reader and make your writing harder to follow.

Active voice is your secret weapon for crafting content that’s not only clear and concise but also incredibly engaging. By using active voice, you’ll keep your readers interested from the first word to the last.

How to Identify Passive Voice

So how can you tell if you’re using passive voice? It’s not always as obvious as you might think.

Look for the Verb “To Be”

One of the biggest clues of a passive sentence is the presence of a form of the verb “to be.”

These include is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

For example:

“A delicious cake was baked by Sheila.”

“The project was completed ahead of schedule.”

“The old house next door is being renovated.”

If you see a “to be” verb followed by a past participle (a verb ending in -ed), chances are you’ve got a passive voice on your hands.

Check if the Subject Performs the Action

Another way to identify passive voice is to look at what the subject of your sentence is doing.

Are they performing the action of the main verb? Or are they just kind of…sitting there, letting the action happen to them?

Let’s look at an example:

“The students were praised by the teacher for their hard work.”

Here, the real doer of the action (the teacher) is tacked on at the end like an afterthought.

Identify the Target of the Action

In an active sentence, the subject is front and center, doing the verb. In passive voice, the target of the action steals the spotlight, being acted upon.

Like this:

The election results were announced this morning.

The focus here is on the election results (the target) rather than who did the announcing (the subject). That’s a surefire sign you’re dealing with passive voice.

Techniques for Changing Passive to Active Voice

Okay, so you’ve identified some passive voice in your writing. Now what?

How do you flip those sentences around and make them active?

Identify the Real Subject

First things first: Figure out who or what is actually doing the action in your sentence. In passive voice, the subject is often hiding out at the end of the sentence, after the word “by.”

For example:

“A new product will be launched by the company next month.”

Here, the company is the one doing the launching, so it’s the real subject of the sentence.

Rearrange the Sentence Structure

Once you’ve pinpointed the subject, it’s time to give your sentence a makeover. Move the subject to the front of the sentence, and have it perform the action directly on the object.

So our passive example from before:

“The company will launch a new product next month.”

Now it’s in active voice.

Replace Passive Verbs with Active Verbs

Sometimes, simply rearranging the sentence isn’t enough. You may need to swap out those weak, passive verbs for stronger, active ones.

Let’s look at an example:

It was determined that the project would be completed by the team.

That’s about as passive as it gets. To make it active, we need to ditch “was determined” and give the subject (the team) a more decisive verb.

The team decided to complete the project.

See the difference? The team’s running the show. It’s crystal clear, cuts right to the chase, and infinitely better.

When to Use Passive Voice Intentionally

Now, I know I’ve spent this whole post singing the praises of active voice. But here’s a little secret: Sometimes, passive voice can actually be a good thing.

I know, I know – it sounds like heresy. But there are a few specific situations where passive voice is not only acceptable but actually preferable.

Emphasizing the Action or Object

In some cases, you might want to deliberately shift the focus away from the subject and onto the action or object of the sentence. That’s where passive voice can come in handy.

For example:

The suspect was arrested early this morning.

Here, the emphasis is on the arrest itself, not on who made the arrest. Using passive voice allows you to highlight the action and its consequences.

Maintaining Objectivity in Scientific Writing

In scientific writing, researchers often use passive voice to keep the focus on the experiments and results, rather than on the scientists themselves.

The data was collected for six months.

This sounds more objective and impartial than saying “We collected the data for six months.” The passive voice helps maintain that all-important scientific detachment.

Stylistic Choices

Finally, there may be times when you choose a passive voice for stylistic reasons – to create a certain tone or rhythm in creative writing.

For example:

The air crackled with anticipation as the stage was prepped for an unforgettable fight.

Passive voice, in this case, is a powerful tool that heightens the dramatic tension, making you eager to discover what happens next.

The key is to use passive voice sparingly and intentionally. Active voice should still be your default, but don’t be afraid to mix things up now and then for effect.

Turn Those Passive Sentences Into Active Voice

Active voice is the key to making your writing come alive. By putting the subject front and center, using strong verbs, and keeping your sentences concise, you can create content that grabs your reader’s attention.

Now that you know what active voice is and how to use it, it’s time to put it into practice. Your readers are waiting for content that speaks directly to them, pulls them in, and keeps them engaged. With the active voice in your writing toolbox, you’ve got the power to make that happen.

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with gratitude,

Julia

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