Learn How to Avoid Passive Voice in 3 Simple Steps

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Students, especially those who pursue their higher education in colleges and universities, often get a clear warning for their assignment writing guidelines – use less passive voice. Even professors point out not to use passive voice. However, some students consider using passive voice as the easiest way out to sound knowledgeable. But, if you are a student who find it difficult to eliminate passive voice from your content, then this blog will be helpful for you. Here, you will get to know everything about passive voice, how to detect the usage of passive voice in your paper, and also learn how to avoid passive voice in your academic writing.

What Is Passive Voice?

Passive voice is a form of sentence construction. It combines the verb that will take place or has taken place in the past participle format of a transitive verb or you may say that the action is carried out on the sentence’s subject. In contrast, in an active sentence, the subject acts as the verb.

Let’s take a look at the example below to understand the concept of a passive sentence.

Active voice:

Word Dad hugged me
Semantic function Actor Direct Verb receiver

Passive voice:

Word I was hugged by dad
Semantic function Receiver Direct verb Actor

However, if you omit the actor from the passive sentence, it remains an active voice even though it offers less information.

Word I was hugged
Semantic function Receiver Direct verb

Before you learn how to avoid passive voice, it is essential to know why you must avoid passive voice.

Why Should You Avoid Passive Voice?

Everybody – an academician, editor, or businessman may give you separate distinct reasons for avoiding passive reasons, but it all boils down to the following primary points.

·         Passive voice is too wordy

If you look at the example above, you will notice that passive voice sentences are longer than active voice, despite communicating the same thought. Therefore, it tends to be too wordy and does not sound nice when used multiple times in the content. Therefore, the best practice is to keep it below 5%.

·         Eludes the clarity of writing

The indirect structure of the passive sentence hides the individual or entity who takes the action. If you look at the second example of the above-stated passive sentence –”I was hugged,” can you identify “who is hugging me?” in contrast, if you notice the active form of the statement “Dad hugged me”, you get more details and the sentence seems less ambiguous.

·         Makes writing more detached

Take a look at the two sentences below

  • Sentence 1: The mail was sent to Adrian by me
  • Sentence 2: I sent the mail to Adrian.

Unlike clear and natural active sentences, passive sentences feel more formal and detached. It creates a roadblock to connecting with the reader.

Now that you know the importance of avoiding passive sentences, let’s see how you can spot a passive sentence.

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How to Detect a Passive Sentence?

Consider the drawbacks of the passive sentence as stated above and look for the following pointers to find out if the sentence is passive.

v  Who is taking the action?

Scan the entire document with each sentence. When you look at every sentence take note of who is taking the action. If the individual or the object appears at the end of the sentence, then chances are high that it is a passive sentence.

v  Use “by unknown” test

As stated above, not all passive sentences structure put out who is taking the action but the above tricks will never detect these instances. However, if you follow the strategy “by unknown” and use this phrase at the end of the sentence and it makes a grammatical sentence, then it is a passive sentence.

v  Search for common terms

Some common phrases are used in passive sentences. However, they are not solely used for developing passive sentences. Look for these common indicators. For example,

  • To be
  • Was
  • Have been
  • Will be
  • Will have been

When Can You Use Passive Sentences?

As hinted earlier, using passive voice is not always bad. Here are some instances where you can use passive sentences:

Ø  Adopt an objective tone

When you write a legal document or scientific report, you have to be objective with what you say and passive voice offers the right tone to make the statements. In such instances, you can use passive sentences.

Ø  Limit the power of the subject

Sometimes you want to emphasize the action of the sentence and not the subject to state your opinion. In similar situations, when you want to restrict the power of the subject to influence the reader, you can use passive sentences.

Ø  Take the subject out of the equation

At times you want to make the object the focus of your statement. For that, you may need to take yourself and the subject out of the equation.


Stating ‘the shoes were on the table” makes the words less accusatory than saying ‘you left your shoes on the table.’

How to Avoid Passive Sentences?

Avoid Passive Voice

By now it might be clear what a passive sentence is, and when and when not to use a passive sentence. Next, let us look at the steps to avoid a passive sentence. If you have an idea of how to avoid a passive voice, then it would become easy for you to implement in practice. Here are the steps that you need to follow.

1. Identify various parts of a sentence

A sentence has various parts, a verb, a subject, and an object. Identify them.

· Identify the verb in the sentence

The first step to learning how to avoid passive voice is to recognize the verb that is used in the sentence. Typically, a passive sentence consists of terms that include the verb in the ‘to happen’ format. It will help you spot the passive sentence quite easily and avoid using it in your sentence.

· Recognize the subject in the sentence

Isolate the subject of the sentence. Comprehend what the action and verb are in the sentence to find the subject. For example, in a sentence – “Mathew kicked the ball,” “kicked” is the verb. Then Mathew is subject.

However, at times, an object is a subject. In the sentence, “The plane halted the traffic,” the plane is subject.

· Know the object in the sentence

The object of a sentence is not an action, it is being acted upon. If you take the above example, “the plane halted the traffic, traffic is the object. However, often the direct object is eliminated from the sentence, like, “the plane halted.” In that case, you must consider the sentence without the subject.

Also Read: Learn Various Approaches on How to Restate a Thesis

2. Find out the difference between the active and passive voice

You can find out the difference between the active and passive voice in two simple steps.

  • Ensuring that the subject is doing the action

First, to find out the active voice, ensure that the subject is doing the verb. For example, in the sentence, the dog is wagging its tail, the act of wagging is the verb and the one who is performing the verb is the subject, i.e. the dog. Therefore, the sentence is in an active voice.

  • Identify the passive voice

A passive voice is preceded by using the phrase ‘by the’, while the action might be eliminated. For example, the sentence, the tail is being wagged by the dog, is passive. It is because the subject “tail” is being acted upon by the verb.

3. Know when to use a passive voice

You can determine if using the passive voice is essential or not by determining the significance of the direct object. Typically, passive voice is used on rare occasions. However, you must not make it your default choice. Find a strong logical reason to use it. Look at the situations below to recognize the significance.

Situation 1: To Stress the Receiver of the Sentence

Imagine you are the news writer. A mayor of a city gets arrested by the police. If you try to write it in the active form, the sentence will turn out as the police arrest the mayor. But it would be logical if you stress who was arrested. Then, you must adopt the passive form to make it more impactful.

Situation 2: The object needs to come out first

Suppose you are writing a scientific paper. In that case, writing the object first is more essential than the process. Instead of writing “I poured mercury into the beaker,” the writing would become more effective if you write “Mercury was poured into the beaker.”

A Passive Voice Editing Checklist

If you want to stress how to avoid passive voice in your sentence, the following checklist would be quite beneficial.

  • Are the actions unfolding in front of the reader when the narration is provided?
  • Have you summed up the complex parts of the document?
  • Can you state the happenings in fewer words?

If the answer for all the statements or questions comes in positive, it is a passive sentence.

Wrapping Up

From the discussion above you would have learned how to avoid a passive voice. However, if you still need more details or clarifications to steer away from using passive voice, learn the circumstances in which you can use passive voice or acquire the tricks for writing in active voice, connect with us and share what worries you the most immediately with us. Our team of experts online will guide you through the entire process of not writing in a passive voice. Plus, you can get in-depth assistance in making sure that your academic paper is developed from scratch based on your university guidelines for a marginal price.


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