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Passive Voice vs Active Voice

Wed Jan 22, 2014, 1:00 PM


Hello everyone! :wave:

You've probably already read some of this week's wonderful journals on audience and beginning a story, and you're also probably wondering what exciting topic I've brought for you today. I suppose I'll tell you instead of keeping you in the dark.

Passive Voice vs Active Voice


Dean's Leg Guitar


I can see you're all excited.

To begin this article, I'll start by defining exactly what passive and active voice are.


Active Voice


With active voice, the agent (the person or thing carrying out the action) is the subject:

Harry ate six shrimp at dinner.

John opened the door.

Sue changed the flat tire.



Passive Voice


There are two different types of passive voice constructions. In the first one, the agent is identified, but the person (or) thing toward which the action is directed is the subject of the sentence instead:

At dinner, six shrimp were eaten by Harry.

The door was opened by John.

The flat tire was changed by Sue.



In the second type of passive voice construction, the agent is never identified:

Six shrimp were eaten at dinner.

The door was opened.

The flat tire was changed.



Sammy Faints XD


If you're new to this, that might be a lot of information to take in all at once, but no one expects you to be an expert after only knowing information for one day.

There is a common misconception that the words "to be" is a clear indicator, but that isn't always true. Grammar Girl explains this concept quite well, so why should I explain when she's already done it quite brilliantly?

"A lot of people think all sentences that contain a form of the verb “to be” are in passive voice, but that isn't true. For example, the sentence 'I am holding a pen' is in active voice, but it uses the verb “am,” which is a form of “to be.” The passive form of that sentence is 'The pen is being held by me.'

Notice that the subject, the pen, isn't doing anything in that sentence. It's not taking an action; it's passive. One clue that your sentence is passive is that the subject isn't taking a direct action."


HAPPY DANCE


Most writers think that using passive voice is wrong or incorrect. This isn't always so, but it is often a poor way to phrase your sentences. Sometimes, passive voice is awkward and clunky, and other times it's vague and unclear. Sentences written in passive voice are generally wordier than sentences written in active voice, so you can tighten up your writing in many places if you replace passive sentences with active ones.

Politicians use passive voice to intentionally obscure the idea of who is taking the action. Ronald Reagan famously said, “Mistakes were made,” when referring to the Iran-Contra scandal. Other examples of using passive voice for political reasons could include “Bombs were dropped,” and “Shots were fired.” If you watch the news, you should pay attention and listen for examples of passive voice.

There are times when the use of passive voice is encouraged. I'm going to draw on the wisdom of Grammar Girl again here:

"Passive voice is also sometimes useful in fiction writing. For example, if you were writing a mystery novel and you wanted to highlight missing cookies because they are central to the story, passive voice is the best option. It would make more sense to write, "The cookies were stolen," instead of "Somebody stole the cookies."

The difference is subtle, but in the passive sentence “The cookies were stolen,” the focus is on the cookies. In “Somebody stole the cookies,” the focus would be on the unknown somebody. Passive voice can be helpful if you want to create a sense of mystery in your sentence."


Castiel FYI


Discussion Questions


  • How often do you use active voice and how often do you use passive voice?
  • Have you ever chosen to use passive voice instead of active voice? Why?
  • Do you unconsciously use one or the other more often?


Challenge


Go through a recent piece that you have written, or a piece where you use a lot of passive voice, and change it to see if the sentences flow better when you use active voice.

Go through a recent piece that you have written, or a piece where you use a lot of active voice, and change it to see if the sentences flow better when you use passive voice.


I'll leave you with this amazing gif.

Dean AHHHHHHH

Adios! DrippingWords




Passive VS Active:

An epic battle to the death.

Funny Supernatural Gifs for your entertainment.
Add a Comment:
 
:iconedwardtherese:
EdwardTherese Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2014
A very clear and humorous explanation - great job.
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2014  Student Writer
Gracias!
Reply
:iconmightymog:
Mightymog Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I tend to use active more than passive
I some times use passive when I want to make an action vague. "The door opened"
I think I unconsciously use active more often but I might see how fluid it is is I change it to passive.

(Also I love the supernatural Gifs, especially the 3rd one)
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2014  Student Writer
I think active is more natural for most people, since that's how we speak.

(Yes, that one is my favorite too.)
Reply
:iconladybrookecelebwen:
LadyBrookeCelebwen Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
How often do you use active voice and how often do you use passive voice?
...I want to answer, it depends on the story, but that feels like a copout (again). Humorous, fast paced stories tend towards active, angsty things where I don't necessarily want to draw attention to a specific person and have them act tend towards passive. :shrug: 

  • Have you ever chosen to use passive voice instead of active voice? Why?
  • Because rereading/writing it, it sounded better in the passive. :shrug: I'm not a complicated person with grand motivations, okay? :lol: My overwhelming plans tend to be things like making it socially acceptable to bring a blanket fort to class. 

  • Do you unconsciously use one or the other more often?
  • Probably active a little more often, if only because that's how I was taught to write. 
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Student Writer
Haha, it's not a cop out (that's my answer too.)

:giggle: Blanket forts are the best.

That's what most people have been saying.
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:iconladybrookecelebwen:
LadyBrookeCelebwen Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Yes, I'm not alone in that answer! :D 

They are! Except they're not acceptable to have in class, for some reason. :grump: I want my blanket fort! 
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:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2014  Student Writer
:iconcheers2plz:

That's ridiculous! Do it anyway! REVOLT! :giggle:
Reply
:iconladybrookecelebwen:
LadyBrookeCelebwen Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I should revolt! :giggle: But then my advisors would probably just laugh at me, and I'd have to be annoying back, and it's too much work.
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2014  Student Writer
True....:lmao:
Reply
:iconladybrookecelebwen:
LadyBrookeCelebwen Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
;P
Reply
:iconladybrookecelebwen:
LadyBrookeCelebwen Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Whohoo, screwy formatting. Which didn't even show up in preview....
Reply
:iconchronophontes:
Chronophontes Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
It depends a lot on what you are saying.  Passive "I got hit by a car" sounds MUCH better than active "a car hit me", if only because "a car hit me" suggests some intention by the car.  (Note that passive doesn't need the verb "be".)    I would avoid "by" followed by a pronoun: "my baby is loved by me" just doesn't cut it by comparison with "I love my baby".  When the doer takes a noun rather than a pronoun, they often sound about equally OK: "My mother spanked me" or "I got spanked by my mother" - the difference seems to be in who gets emphasized, me or my mother.
Reply
:iconedwardtherese:
EdwardTherese Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2014
"A car hit me" actually could be used for comedic purposes - which is often a good indicator that it is not used under normal circumstances.
Reply
:iconchronophontes:
Chronophontes Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
On a completely irrelevant note, it reminds me of the thing about "I was driving along, minding my own business, when a tree came up and hit me."
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:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Student Writer
That's a really good way to explain it, thanks. :D
Reply
:iconchronophontes:
Chronophontes Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Glad to help!  I hope I wasn't too technical.
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2014  Student Writer
Nope! :XD:
Reply
:iconalkraas:
Alkraas Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for teaching! You explain it easier than my english/german class teacher :)
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:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Student Writer
Haha, you're welcome! I'm glad you found it easy to understand!
Reply
:iconalphabetsoup314:
alphabetsoup314 Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Here's another random example for funsies:

Voldemort is attacking the school! 
I would probably use this for a faster paced scene, like someone is sounding the alarm and making an emergency announcement. It feels like a more panicked statement, like it might be followed by something like "Rally the forces! Everybody into position! Wands at the ready!"

The school is being attacked... by Voldemort. 
This might be followed by a look of dread and a mental "Dun dun DDUUUUNNNN!" Now it's not just anybody attacking the school, it's You-Know-Who. However, it would sound like a mouthful if someone were to run around the school shouting, "The school is being attacked by Voldemort!"

Neither is inherently better, and each one has their dramatic uses. 
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Student Writer
Bahahahahahahaha.

This is great. :huggle:

:iconawkwardhugplz:
Reply
:iconpetoriusrex:
PetoriusRex Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Active vs passive...one of my downfalls. Though I am learning. My editor highlights all my WAS's and such. I am learning. :)
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Student Writer
Good for you. :heart: Keep on keeping on!
Reply
:iconpetoriusrex:
PetoriusRex Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
:thumbsup:
Reply
:icontuesdaynightcompany:
TuesdayNightCompany Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014
Oh god, I hate GIFs so much.  I feel like I'm being dubiously gifted with epilepsy.
Just sayin'.

I don't use passive very often.  Never thought about it objectively... I use it for effect sometimes.
Hm.
This is interesting.
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Student Writer
Sorry. We're encouraged to break up walls of text with stuff, and I felt the gifs fit.

You should try writing a piece using just passive voice. It's harder than it seems.
Reply
:icontuesdaynightcompany:
TuesdayNightCompany Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2014
It's just me, probably.

I shall!
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2014  Student Writer
Yay!
Reply
:iconshadowedlove97:
ShadowedLove97 Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014  Student Writer
I love all the supernatural gifs haha.

Anyways, though I know the difference between both, I tend to use passive voice when I'm trying to write a chapter of my story, but I'm not motivated or I don't have a clear idea of what I want to happen. Though I always go back after that and edit the sentences using passive voice if need be.

I think I tend to use active voice more, but that's because, with what I'm writing, passive voice does not convey what I want the reader to feel. However I do use passive voice, though mostly when I want my writing to be intentionally vague, such as when the narrator (first-person or 3rd-person limited) is confused and doesn't understand what's going on, or, like the example above, I want a mystery. Again, it all depends on the feeling I want to convey to my readers!
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Student Writer
Why thank you. :giggle:

That's a very good reason to use active vs passive.
Thanks for sharing!
Reply
:iconlytrigian:
Lytrigian Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Geoffrey Pullum, a professor of the Linguistics and English Language department at the University of Edinburgh and a co-author of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, maintains a comprehensive list of Language Log posts about the passive voice, which may be of interest here www.lel.ed.ac.uk/grammar/passi…
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Student Writer
That's pretty interesting, thanks!
Reply
:iconfairydragoon:
FairyDragoon Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I unconsciously use passive voice more....
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Student Writer
You are one of the few and mighty. Haha.
Reply
:icondgveil:
DGVeil Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014  Hobbyist
I believe I use them both equally, or there so. With my writing I lean heavily on feel. By going on what feels right, the reader, I believe, can better connect. It's all about the context and the feel you want.
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014  Student Writer
I definitely agree with you there.
Reply
:icondgveil:
DGVeil Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014  Hobbyist
^w^ yes. A lot of people believe there is an exact science to how to write. Truth? There isn't a single thing set in stone. Our language fluctuates constantly. By experimenting and going on "feel" you open new doors into the never-ending art of literature.
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Student Writer
Exactly. :iconbravoplz:
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:icondgveil:
DGVeil Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2014  Hobbyist
Hehe thanks
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2014  Student Writer
You're welcome!
Reply
:icondgveil:
DGVeil Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2014  Hobbyist
^/////^
Reply
:icondelphsco:
Delphsco Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I tend to use Active Voices a lot more than Passive ones, but I really didn't even know about any of this. xD I don't really remember the last time I've used Passive Voices... but this helped and I really loved the Supernatural GIFs Yasuko Takasu (Fangirling) [V1] 
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014  Student Writer
Active voice comes more naturally to most people.

Yay! :bow:
Reply
:iconyuyu10100:
Yuyu10100 Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
Passive and Active has been my problem for a while. This helped me a lot! Thank you!! :squee:
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014  Student Writer
You're welcome! I'm glad I could help. :heart:
Reply
:iconbryosgirl:
bryosgirl Featured By Owner Jan 22, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
How often do you use active voice and how often do you use passive voice?
I'm at a point where active/passive is a 50-50 thing, although a year ago I abused passive way too much.

Have you ever chosen to use passive voice instead of active voice? Why?
I sometimes choose passive for spots that are meant to be lighter, certain flow, more poetic, emphasize a particular active point, etc. These moments are growing fewer and further apart, but I still come across spots in my own writing as well as others where a particular line doesn't feel as effecitve in passive.

Do you unconsciously use one or the other more often?
It depends on the scene. Active voice is coming much more naturally the past few months when I'm writing action-oriented scenes, but in less active scenes I still fall back on passive more often than I'd like (praise be to editing and rewriting, lol).
Reply
:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014  Student Writer
Thank you for sharing!
These are all very good reasons.
Reply
:iconbrietta-a-m-f:
brietta-a-m-f Featured By Owner Jan 22, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist

As I frequently write (or edit) office type documents (ie. reports and memos, so boring), I am usually very aware of active vs. passive in writing. That awareness carries over into my creative writing (ie. fun stuff!). I do choose passive over active, sometimes a lot, in order to vary my writing. It rearranges sentence structure and keepings the style interesting. I will do it more often if I intend a scene to run a little slower and for the reader to dwell upon it some.

 

Because awareness of the differences has become so ingrained, I rarely use it unconciously, and if I do, I always go back and re-read to make sure it works. If it doesn't, I change it.

 

On a side note, love the gifs!

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