Active vs Passive Voice: Learn the difference and usage

Understanding Active and Passive Voice

Active and passive voice are two essential concepts in English grammar that affect the structure and clarity of sentences. They determine how the subject and the object of a sentence relate to the action being performed.

Watch a quick video introduction of Active and Passive Voice:

1. Active Voice

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action. The structure typically follows this pattern: Subject + Verb + Object. For example, "She (subject) wrote (verb) a letter (object)." Here, the subject "She" is performing the action of writing the letter.

Active voice is straightforward and often preferred because it emphasizes the doer of the action and leads to concise and clear sentences. It's commonly used in both spoken and written communication.

Active voice makes it clear who or what is performing the action in each sentence, leading to straightforward and concise communication.

  • Peter is playing the piano.

    Here, the subject of the sentence is "Peter", which is doing the action. And "the piano" is the object, which receives the action of the verb "playing".

  • He is doing his homework.

Active voice

Let's take a look at a few more examples of Active Voice:

  • The cat chased the mouse.

    In this sentence, "The cat" (subject) is performing the action of chasing.

  • She reads a book every evening.

    "She" (subject) is actively performing the action of reading.

  • They built a sandcastle on the beach.

    "They" (subject) are the ones actively constructing the sandcastle.

  • He eats apples for breakfast.

    The subject "He" is actively engaged in the action of eating.

  • I wrote a letter to my friend.

    In this sentence, "I" (subject) is actively involved in the action of writing the letter.

2. Passive voice

In the passive voice, the object of the action becomes the focus, and the subject is often less emphasized or even omitted. The structure is typically: Object + "to be" verb + Past Participle Verb + by + Subject (optional). For instance, "A letter (object) was (to be verb) written (past participle verb) by her (subject)." Here, the letter is the focus, and the doer of the action (her) is less important.

Passive voice is used when the speaker wants to emphasize the action's recipient or when the doer of the action is unknown or less important. While it has its place in writing and speaking, overusing passive voice can make sentences less direct and engaging.


  • A story is being written by her.

  • Homework is being done by him.

In the first example, "a story" is the subject, but it is not doing any action. It is acted upon by other person or the agent, who performs that action. Here "her" is used as an agent.

Here are a few more examples of Passive Voice:

  • The cake was baked by my mother.

  • The book was read by the students.

  • The letter was written by John.

  • The car was repaired by the mechanic.

  • The house was built by a skilled team of workers.

2.1 How to form Passive Voice?

Rearrange the subject and the object of the sentence in active voice using the rule: subject + to be + participle form of the verb + BY + object

Tense Active Passive
Present simple Mary writes stories. Stories are written by Mary.
Present continuous Sarah is making a dress. A dress is being made by Sarah.
Present perfect Marry has written a story. A story has been written by Mary.
Past simple He built this house. This house was built by him.
Past continuous Molly was doing that work. That work was being done by Molly.
Past perfect Mike had cleaned this room. This room had been cleaned by Mike.
Future simple Molly will sing a song. A song will be sung by Molly.
Future continuous She will be cleaning the carpet. The carpet will be being cleaned by her.
Future perfect She will have cleaned the carpet. The carpet will have been cleaned by her.
Conditional She would make a dress. A dress would be made by her.

3. Choosing Between Active and Passive Voice:

The choice between active and passive voice depends on the context and the message you want to convey. Active voice is generally preferred for clear, direct communication, while passive voice can be suitable for emphasizing the receiver of the action.

Understanding active and passive voice is crucial for effective communication and clear writing. By mastering these concepts, you'll have greater control over the tone and style of your sentences, making your writing more engaging and precise.

4. Active and Passive Voice with Modal verbs:

When changing active voice with modal verb in to the passive voice, the word "be" is added after the modal verb.

Structure of the sentence in passive voice will be: subject + modal verb + "be" + participle form of the verb + "by" + agent

Modal Active Passive
Can Mary can writes a story. A story can be written by Mary.
May Sara may buy a dress. A dress may be bought by Sara.
Might Lily might play this game. This game might be played by Lily.
Should You should read this book. This book should be read by you.
Must She must eat green vegetables. Green vegetables must be eaten by her.

5. Active and Passive Voice with Imperative Sentences:

Imperative sentences are used for giving commands or orders, making requests and giving instructions. Passive voice for imperative sentences starts with the word "Let", and the word "be" is added before the correct participle form of the verb.

Therefore the structure of an imperative sentence in passive voice is: "Let" + subject + "be" + past participle

Active Passive
Call the doctor. Let the doctor be called.
Open the window. Let the window be opened.
Finish your work. Let your work be finished.
Clean this room. Let this room be cleaned.

6. Active and Passive voice in question (or innterrogative) sentences:

Using active and passive voice in interrogative sentences can alter the focus and tone of a question. Here's a brief overview of both:

6.1 Active Voice in Interrogatives:

In active voice interrogatives, the subject performs the action. These questions typically begin with verbs like "is," "are," "do," or "does."


  • Is she writing the report?

  • Do they play football?

In these questions, the subjects ("she" and "they") are seeking information or clarification about the action.

6.2 Passive Voice in Interrogatives:

Passive voice interrogatives place the emphasis on the receiver of the action rather than the doer. They often start with "Is," "Are," "Was," or "Were" followed by a past participle.


  • Is the report being written by her?

  • Were the cookies eaten by the kids?

Here, the questions inquire about the receiver of the action or the state of the object.

Remember, choosing between active and passive voice in interrogatives depends on what you want to emphasize. Active voice is more direct, focusing on the doer of the action, while passive voice shifts the focus to the recipient or the object of the action, making it a useful tool for certain contexts.
Active Passive
Are you reading a book? Is a book being read by you?
Does Max play tennis? Is tennis played by Max?
Did Alice make the cake? Was the cake made by Alice?
Have you played tennis? Has tennis been played by you?
Who made this dress? By whom was this dress made?
Which bag did you buy? Which bag was bought by you?

Note: Intransitive Verbs can not form passive voice, because there is no one to receive the action. They do not have direct object.

Examples of Intransitive Verbs: come, go, arrive, live, sleep, happen.

  • They arrived home early.

  • She is Sleeping.

  • He lives here.

  • She is coming.

Note: Some state verbs are not used in the passive even if they are transitive. For example: lack, suit, resemble, have, belong.

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See Also:

English Grammar: