The Oxbridge Editing Blog 26th January 2024

Passive and Active Voice: The Difference Matters

26th January 2024
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Every sentence holds the potential to shape a narrative, convey a message, or captivate an audience. Understanding the nuances of passive and active voice can unlock a powerful toolkit for effective communication. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between passive and active voice, their respective applications, and how using them wisely can elevate your writing to new heights.

Passive vs. Active Voice

Before delving into the intricacies, let’s establish a foundational understanding of what passive and active voice entail.

Active Voice: In an active voice sentence, the subject performs the action expressed by the verb. This construction results in a clear and direct expression of the doer of the action.
Example: “The chef prepared a delectable dish for the guests.”

Passive Voice: In a passive voice sentence, the subject receives the action expressed by the verb. The emphasis is on what or who is affected by the action rather than the entity performing the action.
Example: “A delectable dish was prepared for the guests by the chef.”

The Dance of Clarity and Emphasis: Active Voice

Clarity of Expression:

  • Active voice shines when clarity is paramount. By placing the doer of the action at the forefront, active voice ensures that readers easily discern who or what is responsible for the action, fostering straightforward and transparent communication.
    Example: “The research team conducted an exhaustive study on climate change.”

Conciseness and Directness:

  • Active voice contributes to concise and direct communication. It eliminates unnecessary words, propelling the narrative forward with a sense of immediacy.
    Example: “The author penned a captivating novel.”

Engagement and Impact:

  • Active voice engages readers by creating a dynamic connection between the subject and the action. This direct involvement fosters a sense of immediacy, making the narrative more compelling.
    Example: “The orchestra performed the symphony flawlessly.”

Unveiling Subtlety and Object Focus: Passive Voice

Object Focus and Emphasis:

  • Passive voice shifts the focus from the doer of the action to the object or recipient of the action. This can be particularly effective when emphasising the importance of the action’s result.
    Example: “The ancient manuscript was carefully restored by the skilled conservator.”

Softening Blame or Responsibility:

  • Passive voice is instrumental in softening the impact of blame or responsibility. By placing the emphasis on the action rather than the doer, it can be used strategically to navigate delicate or sensitive topics.
    Example: “Mistakes were made during the project’s execution.”

Generalisation and Objectivity:

  • Passive voice contributes to a sense of objectivity and generalisation, making it suitable for formal or scientific writing where the focus is on the action itself rather than the individuals involved.
    Example: “The experiment was conducted to test the hypothesis.”

Crafting Nuanced Prose

While both active and passive voices have their merits, mastering the art of writing involves knowing when to deploy each. Striking a balance between the two enhances the richness of your prose, allowing you to tailor your expression to the context and purpose of your writing.

  • Consider Your Audience: Assess your audience’s expectations and the tone you wish to convey. Active voice is often more engaging for general audiences, while passive voice may be appropriate in formal or scientific contexts.
  • Emphasise Key Elements: Use active voice to highlight key elements and create a sense of urgency or importance. Reserve passive voice for situations where the emphasis is on the action or the recipient.
  • Vary Sentence Structure: A well-crafted piece of writing employs a variety of sentence structures. Experiment with both active and passive constructions to maintain reader interest and convey information in different ways.

The Perfect Balance Between Active and Passive Voice

In the tapestry of language, passive and active voices are threads that, when woven together with intention and skill, create a narrative rich in texture and resonance. Whether you seek clarity, engagement, or a nuanced approach to emphasis, understanding when to employ each voice is the hallmark of a proficient wordsmith. 

Perfecting the delicate balance between passive and active voice is an art, and our experienced editors are here to help you master it. Elevate your writing to new heights with our expert guidance. From refining sentence structures to ensuring coherence, we provide the meticulous touch needed to make your words resonate. Get in touch today for a bespoke quote and let your voice shine with the clarity and impact it deserves.