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passive and active voice

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What is Active Voice?

Active voice is a way to construct a sentence where the subject performs actions towards the object. The most clear and simple example of such a sentence would be: “Dave (subject) likes (action) mushrooms (object).”

What is Passive Voice?

Unlike active voice, passive voice stresses on the object towards which certain actions are being performed. In other words, the object is placed at the subject’s position. For example: “Clever books (emphasized object towards which an action is performed) are read (action) by clever people (subject).”

Using Active Voice

People usually communicate in active voice sentences, because it is easier both to understand and to express one’s thought with. Making a subject the main acting figure is equal to putting a sentence in active voice.

Using Passive Voice

Passive voice usage rules are slightly more complicated, and should be paid closer attention.

  • Making a sentence’s subject non-active is usually achieved by changing the word order followed by respective grammatical corrections. For example: “Dean ate his breakfast” can be changed to: “The breakfast was eaten by Dean.”
  • If a sentence does not have a direct object, it cannot be put in passive voice. E.g. “People live in big cities” has no direct object, hence to put it in passive voice, one would need to change the verb. If the sentence had another verb (for example, “inhabit”), then shifting to passive voice would be easier: “People inhabit big cities” (in this case, it is a direct object) becomes: “Cities are inhabited by people.”
  • Using passive voice is a good option when the active subject is unknown, unwanted in the sentence, or there is no need to mention it. Also, you can use passive voice if you want to focus on an action itself rather than on its performer.
  • Using passive voice for sentence variety is also acceptable.

When Should You Avoid Passive Voice?

Usually, many forms of official writing does not tolerate the usage of passive voice. In statements of purpose, cover letters, motivation letters, business letters, and other forms of official writing, active voice is more appreciated; it is better to use passive voice only in cases when you need to describe an event or accident that did not depend on you. Also, passive voice sentences should be weeded out if there are too many of them in a text.

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