featured image Active vs Passive Voice How to Engage Your Audience blog post

Active vs Passive Voice: How to Engage Your Audience

Which sentence sounds better:

  1. I grabbed the mug.
  2. The mug was grabbed by me.

The odds are that you picked option #1. “I grabbed the mug” is written in an active voice, while “The mug was grabbed by me” conveys the same idea but in a passive voice.

You should usually write web copy, blog posts, and other marketing materials in an active voice. This improves clarity and keeps your readers engaged.

Here’s everything you should know about active vs passive voice, including their benefits and when to use them:

Understanding Active Voice

When the subject of a sentence does the action conveyed by the verb, you’re using active voice. In other words, the order of the sentence is subject-verb-object. I (subject) grabbed (verb) the mug (object).

Here are a few other examples:

  • Ashley went to the store. Subject = Ashley. Verb = went. Object = The Store.
  • Carlos threw the baseball. Subject = Carlos. Verb = threw. Object = The baseball.

However, it’s not always quite that simple. For example:

  • Learn how to engage your audience.

The subject of this sentence is you, even though you aren’t in the sentence. The verb is learn, and the object is how to engage your audience. How to engage your audience is technically a complete object, but that’s a grammar lesson for another day.

Understanding Passive Voice

Passive voice occurs when the subject of a sentence receives the action of the verb, hence the term “passive.” The subject isn’t actively doing something; something’s being done to them. Passive voice focuses on a verb-object relationship. Grabbed is still the verb, and the mug is still the object, but I didn’t actively grab it. It was grabbed by me.

Here’s a visual representation to help you understand the difference:

I grabbed the mug.

In this clip, I’m actively grabbing the mug.

The mug was grabbed by me.

active vs passive voice

I’ve already grabbed the mug in this picture, so the action isn’t taking place. You’ve already missed it. I’m telling you that I’ve already grabbed the mug, rather than showing you the action of me grabbing the mug. Sorry!

Here are a few other examples of passive voice:

  • The store was gone to by Ashley.
  • The baseball was thrown by Carlos.

No actions here! Ashley and Carlos already performed them.

To recap, here’s the difference between active vs. passive voice:

  • If the subject is doing something, you’re using an active voice.
  • If something is being done to your subject, that’s passive voice.

Active vs Passive Voice: The Benefits

To enjoy the benefits of both voice types, here’s when you should use them…

Active Voice

  • Engage Readers: Active voice keeps the focus on the action. It shows you what’s happening rather than telling you it’s happened. It feels more immediate and, therefore, more engaging.
  • Clarity: Active voice tends to be more straightforward because it eliminates ambiguity. If I said the mug was picked up, instead of The mug was picked up by me, you wouldn’t know who picked the mug up. It could’ve been you, me, Ashley, Ryan Gosling, Karen from finance — anyone!
  • Directness: Sentences are shorter in active voice, which is great for conveying important information. I grabbed the mug is four words, and you know exactly what I did. The mug was grabbed by me is six words. You still know what I did, but it took you longer to get there. We live in the age of scrolling. Be concise.

Passive Voice

  • Focus on the Object: If you want to focus more on the object of the sentence rather than the subject, you can use passive voice. Is “the mug” more important than “me?” If it’s 8 a.m. and that mug has coffee in it, probably!
  • Formal Writing: If you’re writing technical manuals, scientific reports, or legal documents, passive voice may make more sense. Passive voice conveys information without attributing actions to specific individuals. The mug was grabbed. By whom? Not important!
  • Avoid Responsibility: What if you spilled the coffee, and now there’s none left for anyone in your office? That would suck! You don’t want to get blamed for that. Instead of writing a message stating You spilled the coffee, you could say, The coffee was spilled. Ashley, get more from the store before coming in. K, thanks!

Active vs Passive Voice: Final Thoughts

Usually, you want to use an active voice in your writing, but passive voice has its benefits, too. Want to learn more about the differences between active vs passive voice? Here’s an awesome academic guide.

And if you don’t give a damn about the differences between them and just want to save time, increase visibility, and get your marketing done, check out the content creation package. All of your primary marketing channels are covered with one simple plan. All you’ll have to do is copy and paste!