Passive Vs Active: Grammar Errors


Most teachers disapprove of the use of passive voice and consider it a writing error. Grammar mistakes are made all the time when writing in active voice and passive voice. The major differences between these two approaches are the context in which they are used and when they are used. A passive voice shows interest in the action experienced by a person or subject. Active voice shows that a person or subject is acting or acting upon something else. An active voice is a great way to represent ideas as straightforward because it creates clear images in readers’ minds by explaining who is doing what. Identifying the type of voice used in writing is important, as it allows writers to convey information to audiences with differing levels of activity and substance.

In the active voice sentence above, you stole the cookie from the cookie jar. The subject gets identified first, followed by the action and the object the subject acts upon. In the passive voice instance, the order is reversed and the cookie – the object – is made primary with the stealing action coming after.


The active and passive voice are both good ways of writing, but which one should you use. The APA publication manual states that passive voice is acceptable. Writers tend to overuse the usage of passive voice, ‘used it’ can focus the attention on an object instead of the action. When choosing active writing, the author or writer focuses more on the details. The trick is understanding how you want people to view your stories or articles. For example, to create a clear and concise sentence, choice of active over passive would do the trick. One way to write between the two is to write the sentence in both ways and to write the one that fits the narrative the best.

Source: Writing U.S. [UBC Science Writing]. (2013, November 10). Active and Passive Voice [Video file]. Retrieved from

Video Summary: In this video the differences active and passive voice are explained in scientific reports. Passive voice helps depersonalize the situation and does not give blame. The blame is not given, and the situation is simply stated. The sentence used in active voice includes, “someone left a mess in the lab yesterday” as this places the blame by showing someone did something problematic. In the passive voice instance, “a mess was left in the lab yesterday” takes the blame away from the subject and focuses the action upon what happen.


Video Summary: In this video, the author shows the main differences between active and passive. The author explains what passive and active voice are. The author teaches how to formulate passive voice and active voice. There are different tenses such as past perfect, future perfect, etc. Voices in different structures, how to formulate passive sentences with a person in the object position. Goes into detail on the four common mistakes.


The reasons that teachers give passive a bad rep is that it can be considered a bad writing habit. “You can recognize passive-voice expressions because the verb phrase will always include a form of be, such as am, is, was, were, are, or been. The presence of a be-verb, however, does not mean that the sentence is in passive voice. Another way to recognize passive-voice sentences is that they may include a “by the…” phrase after the verb; the agent performing the action, if named, is the object of the preposition in this phrase.” (Purdue Writing Lab, n.d.) In an active sentence, the person or thing responsible for the action in the sentence comes first. In a passive sentence, the person or thing acted on comes first, and the actor is added at the end, introduced with the preposition “by.” The passive form of the verb is signaled by a form of “to be.” In the sentence above, “was formulated” is in passive voice while “formulated” is in active (Writing Lab Home, n.d.). Passive grammar can be acceptable to use in many different cases such as the actor is unknown, or irrelevant. When talking about old items found or when the actor just isn’t important. Want to be vague about who is responsible for the action, such as Mistakes where made. When you are saying the general truth, like a saying that is used. When you want to emphasize the person or thing acted on. Expressing the details for example, dot NET framework was released in 2002. It set the standards for framework code. One major important thing to do is to know when not to use passive voice, when it can be too vague, or does not show who is responsible for an action. Jane Doe and Jane Fill want to win. Jane won. To avoid confusion with too many passive sentences it is best to say the name of the author in academic writing since ideas different. For Example, the research that was done concluded to be true. Who did the research to show that it is true. To show that you understand and explain, there was a psychologist in the 19th century that gave kids some medicine. It is best to explain what medicine and what doctor.


There are 4 common mistakes. First is changing the tense to a similar tense, such as, “someone has reported the incident” to “the incident was reported.” Instead, write “the incident has been reported.” Another example is, “they are going to build a church” to “a church will be built.” Instead, use “a church is going to be built.” Second, forgetting the verbs such as “to be”, Someone has reported the incident to the incident have been reported. They are going to build a church to a church is going to be built. Third, using present particles instead of past particles. Someone has reported the incidents to the incidents have been reported. Another example is they are going to build a church to a church is going to be built.


Video Summary: This video explains how active voice works. The creator of the video goes through some examples of how to identify the subject of the verbs that are doing something. In one example he used was, “the silkworm eats mulberry leaves.” In this case, the silkworms are the subject and eats is the verb. One other example he uses is, “Grass pollens induces many allergies symptoms”, in this sentence the pollen is the subject and induces is the verb. The creator also goes into detail on how to disassemble the sentence.


The usage of active voice is to make the passage easier to read. There are many advantages of using active voice. The two main reasons to use active voice is that the active voice lays out the actions. Active voice is used most for non-scientific writing. Active voice is used in the majority of your sentences so that it makes the writing clearer for reading. Second, Passive voice is a great help at keeping the majority of your sentences from becoming too vague or complicated to understand. It also creates shorter sentences. For example:

In this problem, the sentence is too passive, meaning that the action and the subject should be changed to.

Another example that can help understand how to write in active is:

As you can see the sentence is passive because even though it is easy to read, it can be confusing changing the sentence to

This makes it seem as if she is the one that caused the action, not the other way around. One use of active voice is that it is more concise on the wording since the wording in active voice requires less words to express the same as in passive. The best ways to understand the differences between passive and active is that in active voice the subject is active in whatever the verb is doing. The other way around as well, the subject does whatever the verb says. In passive voice, the opposite is true. The subject is receiving the action, not doing the action. The direct object is the one doing the action. Two cases on why you should use active voice is completely acceptable to use and even encouraged to use first person to describe one’s own action in APA style.


In short, the use of passive and active can both be used when necessary. Passive voice is used more often to not give fault or to create a mysterious reading. The use of passive voice is most seen in scientific journals, scientific papers, etc, since the subject is not necessary, does not add to the following process. The usage of active voice is the preferred way of writing by teachers and readers alike since it is easier to follow and more concise. Active voice is used when writing papers, etc., or when you want to make sure the reader does not get confused while following along. Just using active voice helps specify who is performing an action that will change the character of your writing.



Passive voice | English Grammar. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Principles of Writing: Passive and Active Voice. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Purdue Writing Lab. (n.d.). More about Passive Voice // Purdue Writing Lab. Retrieved from

Writing Advice Home. (n.d.). Retrieved from



Christian Guzman is a student in the Romain College of Business at the University of Southern Indiana. 

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Written by Christian Guzman


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