People worldwide have historically considered the passive voice as the finer form – more professional and sophisticated. Those days are gone. Business moves much faster today and commonly runs on an international scale. In modern writing, we need to get our message across quickly, easily and clearly. So generally speaking, it is always a better to use the active voice in business communications. You’ll sound stronger (not rude), clearer, more professional and your texts will be more concise. In this article we’ll revise the grammatical differences between active and passive sentences to highlight the inefficiency that comes with the passive. We’ll also go over how to transform passive sentences to active in all tenses, including with modal verbs.
Active vs. Passive
In active sentences, we place the person or thing doing the action (the subject) at the beginning because it is the most important information. This construction is simple and clear.
Subject (who) + Verb (does what) + Object (to whom/what)
We (subject) contacted (verb) customs (object)
In passive sentences, we place the object at the beginning because it is the most important information. The person who does the action is irrelevant or unknown. This construction is more complicated and ambiguous.
Object (what) + Be + Past Participle (is done)
Customs (object) was contacted (be + past participle)
Customs (object) was contacted (be + past participle) by us (subject)
Sometimes using the passive makes more sense, but be careful. Over- or misusing the passive voice can make you sound distant, stuffy, boring and awkward.
In the active, the subject plays the main role. In the passive, the object takes center stage.
Active and clear: The Chief Marketing Officer supervised the website development.
Passive and awkward | The website development was supervised by the Chief Marketing Officer.
Including the subject in a passive sentence can often sound awkward, redundant, and wordy. It’s better to use the active voice.
Active, concise and clear | People worldwide use the internet.
Passive, wordy and awkward | The internet is used worldwide by people.
Changing Passive to Active Voice
Use this table to transform passive sentences to active sentences in all tenses, including with modal verbs.
|PASSIVE VOICE||ACTIVE VOICE|
Be + Past Participle
The new computer is produced by her.
The rights are bought by the Company.
They produce the new computers.
The Company buys the rights.
Be (present) + be (gerund) + Past Participle
The application is being reviewed by them.
A new website is being created by the developers.
They are reviewing her application.
The developers are creating a new website.
Be (simple past) + Past Participle
She was admitted to the program (by them).
The bugs were fixed by the programmer.
They admitted her to the program.
The programmer fixed the bugs.
Have (present) + be (past participle) + Past participle
The app has been finished (by us).
New theories have been established by scientists.
We have finished the app.
Scientists have established new theories.
Have (past) + be (past participle) + Past Participle
The purchase had been made (by them).
The programs had been controlled by the administrators.
They had made the purchase.
The administrators had controlled the programs.
Have (present) + be (past participle) + be (gerund) + P. Part
A new start-up has been being built (by us).
Another project has been being worked on by the CEO.
Present Perfect Continuous
We have been building a new start-up.
The CEO has been working on another project.
Be (past) + be (past participle) + Past Participle
Millions of dollars were being taken by online scammers.
The same program was being used by almost all employees.
Online scammers were taking millions of dollars.
Almost all employees were using the same program.
Will + be (base form) + Past Participle
The patents will be examined (by the Examiner).
All job candidates will be considered by the chief HR officer.
Future Simple: “Will” and “Shall”
The Examiner will examine the patents.
The chief HR officer will consider all job candidates.
Will + be (base form) + be (gerund) + Past Participle
The future of the company will be being discussed by the shareholders.
Some new employees will be being hired by the company.
Future Continuous “Will”
The shareholders will be discussing the future of the company.
The company will be hiring some new employees.
Be (present) + going to + be (base form) + Past Participle
Some funds are going to be obtained by us soon.
Online services are going to be used more.
Future Going to
We are going to obtain some funds soon.
People are going to use online services more.
Could + be (base form) + Past Participle
Cheap cryptocurrencies could be bought by him.
Physical businesses can be killed by online business.
He can buy cheap cryptocurrencies.
Online business can kill physical businesses.
Have (present) + to be + Past Participle
The fix has to be applied (by us).
The stories have to be released now by the press.
We have to apply the fix.
The press has to release the stories now.
Modal + be (base form) + Past Participle
A new idea could be brainstormed by us.
We would be helped with the patents by them.
New measures should be taken by the department.
New ideas may be brought by her.
The patent changes discussed must be applied by him.
This code ought to be finished by tomorrow.
We could brainstorm a new idea.
They would help us with the patents.
The department should take new measures.
She may bring new ideas.
He must apply the patent changes discussed.
We ought to finish this code by tomorrow.
So there you have it! It might take some time to get used to not using passive voice, but the more you practice, the easier it gets and the better your writing will become. If you have questions, please write me!