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When you write a sentence, you can phrase it in either the active voice or the passive voice.

In active voice, the person or thing that performs the main action of the sentence is the subject of the sentence. For example, “Mia kicked the soccer ball” is an active sentence because the person (“Mia”) who performed the main action of the sentence (“kicked”) is also the subject of the sentence.

Compare this to the following sentence: “The soccer ball was kicked by Mia”. In this case, Mia performs the main action of the sentence, but she isn’t the subject. Instead, the soccer ball is the subject of the sentence.

You can remember the difference between active and passive voice by remembering that a sentence is in active voice when the subject of the sentence is actively doing something (e.g., kicking). A sentence is in passive voice when the subject is passively being acted on (e.g., being kicked).

Notice that the active voice version of the soccer ball sentence contained five words, whereas the passive voice version contained seven words. In many cases, passive sentences are longer than their active voice equivalents because they contain extra words (e.g., often some form of “was” plus “by). For this reason, you can often reduce your document’s word count by looking for passive voice sentences and changing them to active voice sentences.

Note that when the subject of your sentence isn’t important and you want to focus on the recipient of an action (e.g., “The ducks were released back into the wild”), it may be best to leave your sentence in passive voice. In most cases, though, changing sentences from passive to active voice can make them easier to understand.

See below for more examples of passive voice sentences and their active voice equivalents:

  • “The survey was conducted by the project team in January 2015.” (passive)
    “The project team conducted the survey in January 2015.” (active)
  • “The lawsuit was filed by Mighty Media.” (passive)
    “Mighty Media filed the lawsuit.” (active)
  • “The dance company’s performance was choreographed by Karen Kain.” (passive)
    “Karen Kain choreographed the dance company’s performance.” (active)

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Writing concisely tip #3: Use active rather than passive voice
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