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Changing Passive to Active Voice

Summary:

This handout will explain the difference between active and passive voice in writing. It gives examples of both, and shows how to turn a passive sentence into an active one. Also, it explains how to decide when to choose passive voice instead of active.

Contributors:April Toadvine, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2011-03-23 12:12:11

If you want to change a passive-voice sentence to active voice, find the agent in a "by the..." phrase, or consider carefully who or what is performing the action expressed in the verb. Make that agent the subject of the sentence, and change the verb accordingly. Sometimes you will need to infer the agent from the surrounding sentences which provide context.

This passive voice contains a by the... phrase. Removing the 'by the' phase and reworking the sentence will give it the active voice.

Image Caption: This passive voice contains a by the... phrase. Removing the by the... phrase and reworking the sentence will give it the active voice.

This sentence (most of the class is reading the book) now includes the active voice because the agent (most of the class) is now the subject.

Image Caption: Making the agent (most of the class) the subject means this sentence now uses the active voice.

The sentence, results will be published in the next issue of the journal, does not explicitly include a by the...phrase. However, the agent is most likely the researchers, so making the agent the subject of the sentence will simplify it and give it the active voice.

Image Caption: The agent is not explicitly stated, but it is most likely researchers. Making the agent the subject of the sentence will allow you to use the active voice.

The sentence, the researchers will publish their results in the next issue of the journal, uses the active voice because the agent (the researchers) are now performing the action as the sentence subject.

Image Caption: This sentence now uses the active voice because the agent (the researchers) are now performing the action as the sentence subject.

The passive voice sentence, a policy of whitewashing and cover-up has been pursued by the CIA director and his close advisors, includes an agent of change (the CIA director and his close advisors) that are not performing the action in the sentence. Making the agent the subject will give the sentence the active voice.

Image Caption: The CIA director and his close advisors are the agent of change in this sentence, but they are not the subject. Making the agent the subject will transform the sentence into a more concise, active voice phrase.

The sentence, the CIA director and his close advisors have pursued a policy of whitewashing and cover-up, now uses the active voice because the agent (the CIA director and his close advisors) are performing the action as the sentence subject.

Image Caption: This sentence now uses the active voice because the agent (the CIA director and his close advisors) is performing the action as the sentence subject.

The agent is not specified in the sentence, mistakes were made. It is most likely we. This sentence uses the passive voice.

Image Caption: The agent is not specified in this sentence.

The sentence, we made mistakes, now uses the active voice because the agent (we) is the subject of the sentence.

Image Caption: This sentence now uses the active voice because the agent (we) is the subject of the sentence.

If you want to change an active-voice sentence to passive voice, consider carefully who or what is performing the action expressed in the verb, and then make that agent the object of a "by the..." phrase. Make what is acted upon the subject of the sentence, and change the verb to a form of be + past participle. Including an explicit "by the..." phrase is optional.

The sentence, the presiding officer vetoed the committee's recommendation, includes the agent (the presiding officer) performing the action as the sentence subject.

Image Caption: This active voice sentence's agent is the presiding officer, which is the subject.

The sentence, the committee's recommendation was vetoed by the presiding officer, now uses the passive voice. Changing the sentence subject from the agent (the presiding officer) to the object of the verb (the committee's recommendation) and adding a by the...phrase transforms the sentence into the passive voice.

Image Caption: Changing the sentence subject from the agent (the presiding officer) to the object of the verb (the committee's recommendation) and adding a by the...phrase transforms the sentence into the passive voice.

The active voice sentence, the leaders are seeking a fair resolution to the crisis, includes the agent (the leaders) as the subject performing the action of the verb.

Image Caption: This sentence includes the agent (the leaders) as the subject performing the action of the verb.

The sentence, a fair resolution to the crisis is being sought, now uses the passive voice because the subject was changed from the agent (the leaders) to the object of the verb (a fair resolution).

Image Caption: This sentence now uses the passive voice because the subject has been changed from the agent (the leaders) to the object of the verb (a fair resolution).

The scientists are the agent performing the verb's action in the active voice sentence, scientists have discovered traces of ice on the surface of Mars.

Image Caption: The scientists are the agent performing the verb's action in this active voice sentence.

The passive voice sentence, traces of ice have been discovered on the surface of Mars, no longer specifies the agent (scientists) and now uses the passive voice because the verb's object (traces of ice) is now the subject.

Image Caption: This passive voice sentence no longer specifies the agent (scientists) and now uses the passive voice because the verb's object (traces of ice) is now the subject.

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