A sentence is active when the subject is the doer (or the agent) of the action. A sentence is passive when the subject is the receiver of the action. The agent of the action, which is placed in a “by” prepositional phrase, is not always stated in a passive sentence. For example:
|The police are watching Jess.||Jess is being watched [by the police].|
|Someone stole my wallet.||My wallet was stolen [by someone].|
|We made mistakes.||Mistakes were made [by us].|
|I will fix the problem.||The problem will be fixed [by me].|
When should the active voice be used?
The Humanities encourage the use of the active voice because it more strongly expresses meaning in a sentence. The active voice emphasizes the agent of the sentence which is also valued in the Humanities. For example:
- Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet at the end of the sixteenth century.
- Romeo and Juliet was written (by Shakespeare) at the end of the sixteenth century.
When should the passive voice be used?
In the Sciences, the use of the passive voice is appropriate to emphasize the receiver of the action or to minimize the importance of the agent. Further, in scientific writing, the passive voice puts the emphasis on the experiment or process being described rather than on the researcher. For example:
- Low income renters are being forced to leave their neighborhoods to make room for large scaled urban development.
- As the harvest approaches, the tobacco plants are sprayed with chemicals.
- The solution was heated to the boiling point.