The doer of an action acts as the grammatical subject in the active voice, and a sentence in the active voice tells “who is doing what.” On the other hand, sentences in the passive voice tell what is done to the subject. Verbs can also be passive or active depending on the manner in which they have been used. In the active voice, there is a straightforward relationship between the verb and the subject and the sentence is actively moved along by the verb (The University of Delaware Writing Center, 2006).
In the passive voice, an agent is acting upon the subject of the sentence. Since passive verb constructions are normally seen to avoid actual work, a person should say something in the active voice if possible in order to create an open meaning. Many people, particularly the military writers and educators, tend to avoid responsibility for their actions by using passive voice in their sentences. For example, a prospective business person might write; “Alcohol advertisements were designed differently to make them more appealing to children.” This is an example of a sentence written in the passive voice as it tells what is done on the subject. In the sentence, the writer places the burden on the advertisement (The University of Delaware Writing Center, 2006).
Conversely, the same sentence can be written as, “We designed alcohol advertisements differently to make them more appealing to children.” This is an example of a sentence written in the active voice as the doer of the action acts as the grammatical subject. In the sentence, the writer uses the word “we” showing they accept responsibility. Caution must be taken not to mix passive and active voice constrictions in one sentence. When this happens, the whole sentence loses meaning and it becomes difficult to identify the subject and the doer in a sentence. Basically, the reader will not be able to identify “who” did “what” in a sentence (The University of Delaware Writing Center, 2006).
It is important to understand when to use the active voice and the passive voice. The active voice is highly appropriate in general writing because maximum sense of conciseness and immediacy is conveyed when the subject of a sentence is made to carry out the action. In addition, the active voice is necessary when the writer only needs to use few words in constructing a sentence. The writer should also consider using active voice in a sentence if he or she wants to take the reader straight to the point. For example, “The cat ate the rat.”
One the contrary, the passive voice is only useful in two different situations. First, one can use the passive voice when he or she wants to draw the reader’s attention to what is being acted upon. For example, the writer can say “The exam was failed by more than half of the class.” Second, the passive voice can be used when the doer is not important in a given situation. For example, one can say, “The car has been damaged.”
The active voice is normally used to enhance the writer’s authority while the passive voice may obscure the authority of the writer. This explains why the passive voice is essentially useful in scientific writing. In scientific writing, the principle or the process being expressed is more important than the actor or the doer. This way, the writer manages to construct objective sentences that can help explain science to others (McMillan, 2001).