/The #1 way to use your voice to power your writing

The #1 way to use your voice to power your writing

One of the crucial elements of your writing journey is understanding the active vs. passive voice. Strong writers often write in the active voice. Proactive heroes, take-charge protagonists, and our favorite characters often display active tendencies.

On the other hand, the passive voice is sometimes used both accidentally and intentionally. How do we know when to use the active vs. passive voice? What do they mean? What are the proper ways to use these two polar opposite voices? In this article, we discuss:

  • Active Versus Passive: Defined
  • When to use
  • When not to use
  • Examples of actual writing

If you’re new to writing, consider this a 30,000-foot view of the do’s and don’ts. If you’re a writer with years of experience, use this as a refresher to familiarize yourself with this much-discussed writing rule.

Active Versus Passive: Defined

A simple way to define the active versus passive voice is to say that the active voice performs the action and the passive voice is acted on. While looking to differentiate between the two, look for these common red flag words:

  • Am
  • Are
  • Is
  • Was
  • Were
  • Be
  • Be
  • State

Also known as mood verbs, the list above act as markers that tell you what type of voice you are using. Consider the following two sentences with active versus passive voice in mind:

#1 – He was going to have the mechanic look at his car.

#2 – You took your car to the mechanic to have it looked at.

The first example uses the passive voice: Iba. The second example uses active voice: He took his car.

The difficulty arises in deciding when to use the active vs. passive voice and how to decide. In today’s captioning, journalism, blogging, and feature writing, professional writers often prefer the active voice between the two. But what about when it comes to storytelling?

When to use the active voice

jerry jenkins21 times New York Times Bestselling Author Says This: “Avoiding the passive voice will set you apart from much of your competition, but even better, it will give your writing a distinctive tone of clarity.”

Do you want to stand out from the competition? Do you want to bring clarity to your writing? Choose to use the active voice and take the time to learn to spot the passive voice.

Here’s a list of places where you should (as a rule of thumb) use active over passive voice:

  • Emails
  • social media captions
  • blog posts
  • Articles
  • Non-fiction
  • Fiction
  • speeches

You probably get the idea! It is absolutely crucial to master the active voice. Consider the following email example:

Hello John,

I’m going to be out of town this weekend and I’m wondering if you could cover for me. Is there anything I can do to help before I go?

Thank you,


Now take a look at this email:

Hello John,

I’m out of town this weekend. Could you cover me? Let me know if I can help you before I go.

Thank you,


The first email, passive voice, includes unnecessary words and takes up John’s time. The second email, active voice, makes the point succinctly, but still politely.

When not to use the active voice

With the examples above in mind, you may still be wondering, “When should I use the active voice versus the passive voice?” According to Rochester Institute of Technologyin their Supporting English Acquisition, they say to use the passive voice for:

#1 – Keep speech topics in the subject position of sentences

#2 – Avoid mentioning the agent of an action

#3 – Emphasize the recipient of an action

While these are exceptions to the active vs. passive rule, keep in mind that for creative writing, the active voice is often the most accepted form of writing. With the groundwork established, let’s dive into actual writing examples.

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice: Real Writing Examples

As you look at the examples below, pay attention to examples that grab your attention, get distracted while reading, and seem to include too many words.

#1 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of 4 Privet Drive were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you would expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just couldn’t take that nonsense.”

Yes, I realize I took a passive voice example from the series. Rowling reportedly used to rake in over $1 billion from. So if you can write books like Rowling and teach a generation to love reading, by all means use the passive voice.

#2 – Dead Sea ConspiracyJerry B. Jenkins

“Conflict. How else could Nicole Berman describe herself on one of the most pivotal mornings of her life? As the first woman, and certainly the first under the age of forty, to receive a permit to serve as lead archaeologist on a dig here, she should have been elated.”

Note Jenkins’ use of active and passive voice. The first main clause uses active voice. The second uses the passive voice: “To be rewarded.†However, in this case, the passive voice fits because she won a prize given by others.

#3 – Everything but the screamsRick Bragg

“My mother and father were born in the most beautiful place on earth, in the foothills of the Appalachians along the line between Alabama and Georgia. It was a place where gray mists hid the tops of low, dark green mountains, where red-boned hounds and blue ticks flashed among the pines and chased possums to the sacks of old men in ragged overalls…

While Bragg uses the passive voice, the tone of his life story requires it. His book is a national bestseller for a reason.

#4 – FableAdrienne Young

“Between the trees, I could see Koy and the others kicking up sand as they left the beach. The skiff slid into the water and I ran faster, my bare feet finding their way over twisted tree roots and buried rocks along the way. I made it through the thicket just in time to see the smile on Koy’s lips as the sail opened.

This first person active voice opening grips the reader and draws them into the story.

#5 – atomic habitsclear james

“The fate of British Cycling changed one day in 2003. The organisation, which was the governing body for professional cycling in Britain, had recently hired Dave Brailsford as its new performance director. At that time, the professional cyclist from Great Britain had endured almost a hundred years of mediocrity.

This nonfiction, New York Times bestseller combines active and passive voice in a way that highlights the stories Clear shares.

Take your action step today

The fun part of writing is that you can choose what is best for your story, active or passive voice or a combination of both. Read, read, and read as you make your choice to familiarize yourself with both styles.

Writing has rules to follow, but it is subjective. Do your research, make your choice, and then write boldly. Best wishes on your endeavours!

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