Writing Tips

Editing Tips

Grammar Tips

APA Tips

Computer Tips

Student Tips

Sample Documents

Ask a Question

Talk with a Teacher

About Us

Grad. Studies Home

Active vs. Passive Voice

Editing rule: Prefer active rather than passive sentences.

Active voice: Subject > Verb >Object

The counselor finished the report.

Passive voice: Object < Verb < Subject.

The report was finished by the counselor.

Note that in the passive version you have to add a couple extra "do-nothing" words--some form of the verb TO BE, such as "is, are, was, were, be, being, been" and a preposition "by."This makes the passive sentence longer than an active sentence would be, without adding any essential "meat" to your message.

Use the passive voice only when the subject is unknown, unimportant or better left unidentified.

A new president was elected in November. (It's not important to say who elected the president.)

All pay raises have been suspended indefinitely. (Administration probably wouldn't want to highlight who has done the suspending.)

Use active voice to give clear instructions, eliminate awkward phrasing and express action clearly and concisely. Avoid unnecessary use of the passive.

Unnecessary passive:

It is required by the therapeutic process that a monthly clinical review be written by each counselor.

Clearer because written in active voice:

The therapeutic process requires each counselor to write a monthly clinical review.

Unnecessary passive:

Your observations of the client's behavior, appearance and mental status are to be included in the assessment.

Clearer because written in active voice:

Include your observations of the client's behavior, appearance and mental status in the assessment.

Tip: Use the FIND command on your word processor to find every sentence that includes the word "by." That's often (although not always) a sign of passive voice.