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Active and Passive Voice

The active voice is a more direct way of phrasing sentences than the passive voice, and generally uses less words. The active voice also leaves less room for ambiguity, as it clearly says who is doing what to whom. In grammatical terms, sentences written in the active voice will contain the word order SUBJECT - VERB - OBJECT, whereas the passive voice will order the main elements of the sentence in reverse order, which means you have to add extra words like 'by' and ancillary verbs (was, were, is, are, can be, could be etc). In the examples below, the relevant parts of the sentence are labelled SUBJECT (S), VERB (V), OBJECT (O), ANCILLARY VERB (A). You can see that using the active voice to structure sentences avoids the need for ancillary verbs that make the sentence sound grammatically awkward.

Passive Active

1967 was (A) the year in which One Hundred Years of Solitude (O) was (A) published (V) by an Argentine publisher (S).

An Argentine publisher (S) first published (V) One Hundred Years of Solitude (O) in 1967.
Aureliano (O) was (A) described (V) as a pensive character, as he (O) was (A) introduced (A) to us (S)while remembering (V) seeing ice for the first time (O) in the opening passage. García Márquez (S) describes (V) the pensive Aureliano (O) in the opening passage, where the character (S) remembers (V) the first time (O) he saw ice.
It was (A) the problem of the family's incestuous leanings (O) that Ursula (S) was (A) hoping to solve (V) by reminding everyone (O) of the tale of the pig-tailed child. Ursula (S) reminded (V) everyone (O) of the tale of the pig-tailed child in the hope of removing the family's incestuous desires.

 

You should also avoid phrases like 'It can be argued that...': either state who is arguing the point (Cox argues that...) or leave the phrase out altogether (which suggests you are arguing the point).

- 'It could be said that Isabel Allende is an accomplished writer'. This is a bad sentence because it does not convey whether you, or anyone else, thinks that Isabel Allende is or is not an accomplished writer.

- 'Karen Castelluci Cox argues that Isabel Allende is an accomplished writer'. This is better because the reader now has a clear idea of Cox's argument. You can also then go on to say whether or not you agree with Cox and why.

- 'Isabel Allende is an accomplished writer' or 'Isabel Allende is not an accomplished writer'. Either of these statements would be better still. They clearly outline your own argument, which you can then support by itemising the things that make Allende an accomplished writer or an unaccomplished one. In this discussion, you could then refer to other scholars who share your opinion and explain why those who disagree with you are mistaken.

 

Avoid using the words 'something' or 'someone' to structure a sentence: it sounds very amateurish and is totally unnecessary.

- 'Walt Whitman is someone who has achieved much in his life through self-promotion'

- Replace with 'Walt Whitman has achieved much in his life through self-promotion'

- 'The Boom of Latin American literature is something which scholars have explained in a number of different ways'.

- Replace with 'Scholars have explained the Boom of Latin American literature in a number of different ways'.