Active Alex (active vs. passive voice)


GIRLS WERE KISSED. Stop being so passive! Get outta here, weak verb! GIRLS KISSED. Nice! Now things are getting active. Lemme get in on that... GIRLS KISSED ALEX.

It’s no coincidence that yesterday’s post talked about The Elements of Style‘s section on active voice. If you’re not familiar with the subject you should read more about it elsewhere, but I’ll give a quick overview. Active voice has the subject doing the action: “Girls kissed Alex.” To make that sentence passive we switch the subject, and make the target receive the action: “Alex was kissed by girls.”

Passive voice enables you to leave out the person doing the action: “Alex was kissed.” Sometimes this is beneficial (if you don’t know who it was, or they’re unimportant), but often it makes the sentence weaker. Which you use can depend on who is more important in the sentence:

“Bob is hated.” (passive; Bob is the focus)
“Everyone hates Bob.” (active; “Everyone” is the focus)

Be careful not to confuse past tense with passive voice (“Bob was happy.”), and don’t assume it’s passive when there’s no person (“The glass broke.”).

Active vs. Passive Quiz

Are these sentences in active voice or passive voice? How can you rewrite them to change the voice? Post your answers in the comments!

  1. In the early morning, the cabin caught fire.
  2. Although he ducked, Ted was hit in the face by the ball.
  3. Jerry ate cereal for lunch every day.
  4. I can’t think of a fourth sentence before midnight.
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