Why Writers Should Use Active Voice

Do you remember what it’s like not to know how to tie your shoes? To write your name? To do a load of laundry?

When the human brain learns something new, it’s almost as if we develop amnesia. It’s nearly impossible to remember what it’s like not to know. That’s exactly how I feel about active and passive voice. Once I learned the difference, I nearly forgot the not-knowing, and now that I know, I can’t help but notice it in writing.

Do you know the difference between active and passive voice? Here's the difference and why you should use active voice.

Consider these two sentences:

  1. The ball was caught by the girl.

  2. The girl caught the ball.

In a nutshell, you want the subject of the sentence to be doing whatever the verb is, and that usually means the subject and verb come in that order in the sentence. Look at sentence one. The girl is the one doing the action, but do you see how the ball comes first in the sentence? The ball is receiving the action instead of the girl doing the action. That’s passive voice. (The ball was caught…

To change it to active voice, switch it around -- like in sentence two. (The girl caught…) The girl is the one doing the action, so she needs to come first, before the verb. 

Here’s a huge clue that you’re using passive voice: you use helping verbs like “am, is, are, was, were” directly before the action verb. Again, look at sentence one: “The ball was thrown.”

It’s not always wrong to use passive voice, but typically, active voice provides more clarity. Active voice often means your sentences are shorter, which is another way to tighten your writing.

Here are a few more examples:

  • Passive: The paper was written by the student the night before it was due.

  • Active: The student wrote the paper the night before it was due.

  • Passive: The drink was poured into the cup by my mom.

  • Active: My mom poured the drink into the cup.

Active voice helps drive your writing forward and keeps the focus on both the subject of the sentence and the action that’s taking place. Now that you know how to make your writing active, and now that you can’t un-know it, take a look back at the last piece you wrote. Where can you identify passive voice, and how can you change it to active?

Not sure if your writing is the best it can be? Contact us and we’ll hook you up with our editor extraordinaire, Jennie. She’ll help you tighten up your writing, clarify your message, and put your best work out in the world—all while cheering you on as you do the hard work of being a writer.