- Active voice means that the subject is… taking action. Whodathunk?
- Passive voice means that the target of the action has been moved to the subject position, so it's… not taking action.
If you spot a form of the verb to be followed by a past participle (e.g., was spotted, is seen), you're likely looking at some passive voice. Sentences with a linking to be verb aren't always passive, though, so don't be a lazy-pants.
Is Passive Voice Wrong?
Sentences in passive voice tend to be awkward or vague, yes. But, technically, they're not wrong.
We'll let you go help your English teacher who just passed out.
Sometimes, passive voice just might be the better choice stylistically. Check out these two sentences:
The cookies were stolen.
Somebody stole the cookies.
The first sentence is in passive voice. The second sentence is in active voice. Which one is better? It's your call, and it all depends on where you want the reader to focus their attention: on the cookies or on the unknown cookie thief (that evil sneak).
Still not convinced? Well, passive voice is actually a superstar in the world of scientific writing. If Nobel Prize winners can do it, so can you.