Aerial view of campus with Williamsport, the Susquehanna River and Bald Eagle Mountain as a backdrop

Passive Voice

How To Recognize It

  • In most writing, active voice is preferred. In active voice, the subject performs the action.
    • Ex: The cow jumped over the moon.
  • In passive voice, the subject is passive; it performs no action.
  • The moon was jumped over by the cow.

Clues To The Passive

  • The subject performs no action.
  • An unnecessary "to be" verb form is used.
  • A "by + a noun" prepositional phrase is included.

When to Avoid It; When to Use It

  • The passive voice is often considered wordy and awkward, so in most essay writing it should be avoided. Some professors and some employers actually insist that it never be used!
  • In sentences where the performer of the action is not as important as the action itself, the passive is appropriate. It is used most often in scientific articles
    • Ex: The cure to cancer was discovered (by the researcher).
    • The phrase saying who found the cure is not as important as the fact that the cure was found.

How to Change It

  • Searching for sentences in the passive voice and making them active will improve your writing, adding clarity and immediacy.
  • You can fix a passive sentence by finding someone or something to perform the action.
    • Passive: All the papers were lost.
    • Active: I lost all the papers.
    • Passive: The package was returned.
    • Active: The company returned the package.