Active versus Passive Voice

Choosing between Active and Passive depends on the answer to two questions:

  1. Must our audience know who is performing the action?
  2. Are we maintaining a logically consistent string of subjects?
     If the string of subjects is consistent, it is the right string?

Those who are found guilty of murder can be executed.
Valuable records should always be kept in a fireproof safe.

Because the final safety inspection was neither performed nor monitored,
the brake plate assembly mechanism was left incorrectly aligned, a fact
that was known several months before it was decided to publicly reveal
that information.

From the standpoint of the Axis powers:

By March of 1945, the Axis nations has been essentially defeated; all
that remained was a finally, but bloody, climax.  The borders of Germany
had been breached, and both Germany and Japan were being bombed around
the clock.  Neither country, though, had been so devastated that it 
could not resist.

From the standpoint of the Allied powers:

By March of 1945, the Allies had essentially defeated the Axis nations; 
all that remained was a finally, but bloody, climax.  Americans, French,
and British Forces had breached the borders of Germany and were bombing
Germany and Japan around the clock.  But they had not so thoroughly
devastated either country as to destroy its ability to resist.


The Institutional Passive: use of "we" in official and academic prose.

Any study of tensions presupposes some acquaintance with certain findings
of child psychology.  We may begin by inquiring whether ... we should
next proceed to investigate ...  [Ugh!]

Long Example

Passive:     Argon lasers and household "Super Glue" are now used
by some dactylography experts to collect fingerprints.   A small, highly
concentrated, single wavelength light beam is produced by the laser.
Fluorescence is induced by the laser in such fingerprints chemicals as 
riboflavin.  Prints -- even old ones -- can be lifted from paper, something
that has been impervious to traditional dusting, by the laser.  The benefits
of "Super Glue" were discovered by accident.  The fumes from the glue
interact with the amino acids and outline the print.  A fingerprint is
raised and preserved by "Super Glue" on just about any surface.  The glue
is used on smooth surface such as skin, plastic, coarse metal and leather.


                 fingerprint)
Revision:   Some dactylography experts now use argon lasers and household 
"Super Glue" to collect fingerprints.  The laser produces a small, highly 
concentrated, single wavelength light beam that can induce fluorescence
in such fingerprint chemicals as riboflavin.  The laser can lift prints
-- even old ones -- from paper, something that has been impervious to 
traditional dusting.  Experts discovered the benefits of "Super Glue" by
accident.  The fumes from the glue interact with the print in a way that
raise and preserved it on just about any surface, including skin, plastic,

Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.
[Handouts Home Page]
General Summary
Sentences
Paragraphs
Nominalization
Emphasis
active vs. passive voice
To cite this page:
Active versus Passive Voice
<http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu>
[]

Edited by: wilkins@mps.ohio-state.edu on