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Active Voice or Passive Voice?

Brian Austin
Brian Austin Ebooks

Sentence structure can be active or passive. Key tip: the kind of writing or speaking style you choose to use can have a significant impact on how your readers or listeners understand and respond - or not - to what you're saying. 

So how do we determine when to use an "active voice" or a "passive voice"? First, let's define and understand both voices.

We've stated in another tip that one of the best ways to illustrate a point or an argument is to use examples.

Therefore, consider the following:

  • "Jack jumped over the fence" - uses active verbs.
  • "The fence was jumped over by Jack" - contains passive verbs.

Notice how the first example that uses the active voice arguably has more authority, strength, bite, impact.

In contrast, the second passive voice example seems weak, clumsy, impassive.

Use of passive verbs remind me of the Charles Dickens' arguably most rarely welcomed, gaunt, "cadaverous" character, Uriah Heep.

To further understand active and passive voice, consider:

  • When you communicate using active voice, the action comes from the person or thing from which it logically proceeds; the subject is the doer. So in the first example above, Jack is the subject, Jack starts the action (... jumped over the fence).
  • In a sentence that uses the passive voice, the subject undergoes the action of the verb. Referring the second example above, we can see how the subject, Jack, is affected by the verb (... was jumped over by ...)

Now here's the most important point I want to make:

Why Should You Use the Active Voice Whenever Possible?

Here's a list of benefits that you can enjoy when you choose the active voice:

  • Use active (voice) verbs, as shown in the first example above, to provide the best style of writing, probably to apply to most of your communication projects and especially when creating business, technical documentation, marketing materials, web pages.
  • Active voice is more direct and less ambiguous than passive voice.
  • In most instances, fewer words are required to make the meaning of your sentence or phrase clear when you use active voice to communicate what you want to share.
  • Active voice verbs usually provide for a better overall commanding impact for your message.

Nevertheless, Passive Voice Does Have Uses

While active voice is usually the most preferable option, sometimes, passive voice can meet your needs better.

When writing fiction, we can find ourselves coming into contact with passive voice more often than when writing for the web. Why: passive voice reflects how people speak to each other.

Above, we briefly introduced a link to an unwholesome character from a Charles Dickens novel. So we can appreciate how in such earlier times throughout history, passive voice usage was popular, even dominant.

Why Has Active Voice Become Popular?

While the use of passive voice was certainly popular in Victorian times, the passing of time certainly does seem to change most everything.

Styles change too. What was "in" yesterday, may be "out" today. Writing and speaking styles also likewise change and evolve.

We could even argue that a key quality of active voice may be impatience: a trait that seems perfect for today. 

Perhaps:

  • Fewer people are reading web pages.
  • More people are scanning web page content, text, headings, sub-headings, etc., to better determine what they think is relevant to them.
  • In the future, the way we currently interact with web pages, ebooks, digital content, may also change, which in turn, may further change how we "sample" the web.

However, whatever the reasons why active voice is "in" today, I feel sure that writing for the web often benefits from direct, concise communications.