Active Voice or Passive Voice: Which Should You Choose?

Should you choose active voice or passive voice?

Active voice or passive voice? Choose wisely to make your writing shine.

When writing a sentence about an action, you often have to decide whether to write in the active voice or the passive voice. In active-voice sentences, the subject doing the action comes first.

  • Example: ‘The police asked the students to stop drinking by midnight.’

The subject here is ‘the police’, and the action is ‘asking’. The students are the target of the action.

The passive voice, however, places the target before the action word.

  • Example: ‘The students were asked by the police to stop drinking by midnight.’

The meaning remains the same. But the second sentence is longer and more unwieldy.

Active voice is the better option

Grammatically speaking, the passive voice is as correct as the active one. But experts encourage writers to use the active voice. One reason is that passive sentences are longer and more awkward to read or say. Another problem is that it is easy to leave out the subject.

  • Example: ‘The students were asked to stop drinking by midnight.’

This sentence is perfectly correct, but it does not mention who asked the students to stop drinking. Thus, passive sentences can sometimes be vague.

A third reason to prefer the active voice is that, unless one is a careful reader, passive sentences can be tricky to understand. They may lead to confusion.


  • Active: ‘He put up with his wife for 30 years.’
  • Passive: ‘His wife was put up with by him for 30 years.’

Someone who is not fluent in English, or is reading too fast, might be puzzled by the second sentence and wonder who has been putting up with whom. For clarity’s sake, therefore, it is a good idea to use the active voice wherever possible.

You can have a look at some more confusing passive sentences here.

Is passive voice always a bad idea?

Not at all. In fact, the shortcomings of the passive voice can be an advantage at times. Let us say you need to own up to a mistake without highlighting your role in it. You could use the passive voice here.

  • Example: ‘The pasta is overcooked.’

Similarly, it is useful if you are about to take some unpleasant action.

  • Example: ‘Your internet will be disconnected.’

Scientists and scholars often use the passive voice to keep their writing impersonal and avoid using the first person.

  • Example: ‘The Petri dishes were then washed thoroughly.’

As you can see, both the active and the passive voice play important roles in English writing. So, the next time you face a dilemma about which voice to use, make sure to choose wisely.

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