Friday, July 21, 2017

Active Voice and Passive Voice

Lecturers, teachers - educators often emphasize the importance of writing in the active voice. Ever wondered why?

Writing in the active voice makes the reader feel involved and the message gets transmitted quickly. Usually, reports are not written in the passive voice (ayat pasif) because that will only cause readers to feel tired. In other words, get to the point by writing in the active voice.

According to (n.d.):
To know whether you are writing in the active or passive voice, identify the subject of the sentence and decide whether the subject is doing the action or being acted upon.
     Passive Voice: the subject is the receiver of the action. 
The tax return (subject) was completed (action) before the April 15 deadline by Mr. Doe. 
     Active Voice: the subject does an action to an object.
Mr. Doe (subject) completed (action) the tax return (object) before the April 15 deadline.

If you notice, when we write in the passive voice, we add the verb 'to be'. 'To be' verb consists of 'am, is, are, was, were, being, or been', which an otherwise strong verb really did not need help. The following further illustrates the comparison between passive voice (with verb 'to be') and active voice (with a standalone strong verb).

  • Passive: Additional information (subject) can be obtained (action) by employees from our website.
  • Active: Employees (subject) can obtain (action) additional information (object) from our website.

    PLAIN, n.d.

The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN; n.d.) also added that documents are stronger when the active voice is used. It shows responsibility and gives credit for an action - that shows importance. The active voice also uses fewer words to explain compared to the passive voice. 

In contrast, the passive voice is used when the doer isn't important or when we don't know who did it. However, PLAIN (n.d.) cautioned that we should attempt to identify the doer if it will make our document stronger.

Hence, the active voice is stronger in education and official documents. Even when it is indicated that passive voice can be used when we don't know who the doer is, we should try to find out - that shows the importance of using the active voice.

So how do you write in the active voice?

This is what PLAIN (n.d.) shared in the simplest terms:
"Writing in the active voice isn't difficult if you follow who-does-what (subject-verb-object) sequence. Your readers can visualize the action and follow the action to the conclusion."

If you're interested to learn some grammar, here's a video that you can watch on Active & Passive Voice:

Otherwise, you may look at the reference below to learn more about how to write sentences in the active voice.

Happy learning!


1.  The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) (n.d.) Writing Tip: Use active, not passive sentences. Retrieved from

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