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Law School Writing Center

Active Voice, Passive Voice

(1) What does PASSIVE VOICE look like?

The case was decided by the court. [Object > Verb > Subject]

The case was decided. [Object > Verb…Missing Subject!]

(2) Why is PASSIVE VOICE problematic?

Reader expects to encounter components of sentence in active format, which immediately tells reader who/what did the action (subject), what the action was (verb), and who/what received the action (object). Altering this order can slow reader down as reader attempts to decipher what occurred in sentence, weaken language by removing energy from action words, create wordiness, and lead to confusion if essential parts of sentence are missing.

NOTE: Using passive voice *strategically* makes sense when subject should be de-emphasized.

(3) How to fix PASSIVE VOICE?

The court decided the case. [Subject > Verb > Object]

 

NOTE: Voice is not the same as Tense!

Voice refers to the grammatical structure of the sentence - the order in which the components of the sentence appear.

Tense refers to the chronology of events - the order in which things happened.

Passive Voice, Present Tense: The case is decided by the court.

Passive Voice, Past Tense: The case was decided by the court.

Active Voice, Present Tense: The court decides the case.

Active Voice, Past Tense: The court decided the case.