Using the Active & Passive Voice

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“You’ve made too many mistakes in this report. Please rewrite this.” 

How does that sentence make you feel? I bet you feel uncomfortable and offended.

How about this sentence: “Too many mistakes were found in this report. Please rewrite this.”

You can clearly see that the second sentence does not put blame on anybody, therefore making it sound more neutral. (Though it is still uncomfortable to receive such feedback!)

Now, let’s imagine you are in a job interview and talking about a major project. You conclude by saying:

“Despite the challenges mentioned, the project was completed on time and the clients were impressed.”

How about putting yourself in a more active role and owning up to this proud-worthy moment?

“Despite the challenges mentioned, I completed the project on time and the clients were impressed with my ideas.”

All of the examples mentioned illustrate the power and effect of the active and passive voice. The active voice and the passive voice are two different ways in which you can express action in a sentence. 

In “I completed the project on time,” the subject performs the action of the verb.

(Subject + Verb + Object). This is the active voice.

On the other hand, “The project was completed on time” is the passive voice.

The passive voice is when the subject receives the action of the verb.

[Object + “to be” + Past Participle of Verb (Verb 3) + “by” + Subject (optional)]

Note that the subject is often not mentioned in a passive voice when it is not particularly important.

Therefore the choice between the active and passive voice depends on the context and what you want to emphasise in your sentence.

Now it’s your turn to try. Turn the following sentences into the passive voice (answers are provided below so don’t peek!):

  1. I found errors in the report.
  2. The team developed the new software program.
  3. We need to schedule a meeting to discuss the project.
  4. We presented the proposal in the meeting.

Let’s check your answers:

  1. Errors were found in the report.
  2. The new software program was developed by the team.
  3. A meeting needs to be scheduled to discuss the project
  4. The proposal was presented in the meeting.

Take note that in the passive voice, the subject (I, team, we) is not mentioned, and “by” is used to indicate who or what is performing the action.

How did you do? If you are not yet confident with the active vs. passive structures, then I invite you to watch or listen to these two episodes.

You can also listen to these episodes on SpotifyApple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

I break it down into more detail with a lot of exercises to test your knowledge.

Just remember that each voice has a role to play. For example, the passive voice is preferred in some cases, such as in technical writing or when the focus is on the action rather than the person performing the action.

However, in general, the active voice is considered to be more direct and clear, and is often preferred in workplace communication, especially in speaking. 

You must choose the appropriate voice based on your intended meaning. Be sure to find out how to do this correctly by watching these two episodes.

Until our next lesson then!

 

Azimah

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Hi there!

We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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