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Active vs. Passive Voice: What is the Difference and Why Should You Care?

Did you know that, as a blogger, you should try to write in the active voice instead of the passive voice? Do you even know what the difference is? This week in my writing principles for bloggers series, I am tackling active vs. passive voice. Read on for tips on how your writing can improve dramatically just by adhering to this writing principle.

active vs. passive voice


Active vs. Passive Voice: Do You Know the Difference?

So, what is active voice? How is it different from passive voice? Why should you even care?

Well, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I blogging as a hobby or do I hope to earn money from my blog?
  • In the future, will I want to get hired for freelance work? Maybe publish a book?
  • Do I want to write posts that are easy to read, easy to understand, and interesting?

If you answered ‘YES!’ to any of the above questions, you should definitely care about writing in the active voice.

What is Active Voice?

Simply put, in active voice the subject of the sentence performs the action. The subject is active.

Here is an example:

Sara ate chocolate ice cream.

Notice that Sara (the subject) is the focus of the sentence. Sara ate. Sara was active. (At this point I must point out the irony of Sara eating ice cream as being an example of anything ‘active,’ but I digress.)

Also, notice that the ice cream (the direct object) is being ‘acted upon’ (as it should be). The ice cream isn’t active.. it is just sitting there, melting and being gobbled up by a very happy Sara.

What is Passive Voice?

In passive voice, the role of subject and direct object are reversed. The direct object takes on the ‘active’ role and the subject receives the action.

Here is an example:

The ice cream was eaten by Sara.

Do you see the difference? In this instance, Sara is having something done to her. Granted, I don’t think Sara will complain. However, if you consistently write in the passive voice, your readers might grumble.

Why is it better to write in the Active Voice?

The active voice is a cornerstone of tight writing principles:

  • It leads to clear and concise sentences that use fewer words.
  • It makes your writing much easier to read.
  • Active voice is more direct and to the point.
  • Active voice makes writing more interesting.

As a blogger, you are ultimately selling something– yourself. You work hard to create a brand and if you hope to monetize your blog, you should be in the business of providing customer service. Readers are your customers. If you write sponsored posts, companies are your customers. If you guest post, other bloggers are your customers.

Don’t make your customers work hard to understand your writing. They will go somewhere else. Your writing should be easy to read and so smooth it is digested as easily as chocolate pudding (what is it with me and chocolate today?).

How to Change Passive to Active Voice in Your Writing:

  • Remember the basic sentence structure– Subject-Verb-Direct Object. Try to craft (or edit) your sentences with this simple structure in mind.
  • Be wary of the verb ‘to be’ (is, are, was, were) and remove it when necessary.
  • Remember: focus on the subject– on the doer of the action.

When is Passive Voice Acceptable?

  • When the subject is unknown.
  • When you want to emphasize the action rather than the subject. (ie: A guilty verdict was rendered by the jury.)
  • When you want to intentionally obscure the subject. (ie: The ball was dropped by certain individuals.)

More Examples of Passive vs. Active Voice

In the examples below, notice how the active voice sentences are easier to read, stronger, and more interesting:

The road was crossed by the chicken.
The chicken crossed the road.

The man was bitten by the dog.
The dog bit the man.

The meal was eaten by the convict.
The convict ate the meal.

The mountain was climbed by Michael.
Michael climbed the mountain.

That about sums it up! I hope you found this explanation helpful and if you have any questions about active vs. passive voice, I would love to help you figure out how to implement this writing principle and tighten the writing on your blog!

Come back next Tuesday when we will talk about Why you can’t edit yourself.

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

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Thursday 2nd of April 2015

Thanks for this reminder -- I nag at my children about not using the passive voice, but hadn't given it much thought for myself! I'm looking forward to your editing post next week! ~Lee PS I found your blog from Outdoor Play Challenge, but I like sitting in front of the computer writing also! :)

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