Sentences with Passive Voice

When do you use active voice, and when do you use passive voice?

Use the active voice when you want to emphasize the subject of an action. In the active voice, the subject of the sentence generates the energy of the sentence. For example:

My sister won student of the month for two months in a row.

In the passive voice, this sentence would read:

For two months in a row student of the month was won by my sister.

Can you tell whether the active or the passive voice makes better sense for what is being said here? Doesn't the first sentence seem stronger? Choosing the active voice brings liveliness to your writing. However, learning how to use the passive voice effectively will also bring power to your writing.

Use the passive voice when you want to emphasize the receiver of the action. In the passive voice the receiver of the action is the subject of the sentence. The first two sentences below are written in the passive voice:

A decision was made by the school principal early in the morning. Because of the snowstorm, the announcement was made that absences were excused that day. As a result, students streamed out of the school to enjoy their day off.

In these sentences, the "decision" and the "announcement" have more prominence than the actors (the school principal making the decision and then making the announcement). Do you think that these sentences should be revised and rewritten in the active voice? Often sentences like these are wordy. Sometimes sentences like these can also be combined. Here's a clear, energetic revision:

Because of the snowstorm, the school principal made the decision early in the morning to excuse absences that day. As a result, students streamed out of the school to enjoy their day off.

Nevertheless, the passive voice does have some good uses.

Use the passive voice to emphasize the results of an action:

A plan to expand the gymnasium so that it included an indoor swimming pool was shot down by the school board.

Use the passive voice when the agent of the action is unknown:

The instructor's house was toilet-papered in the middle of the night the day after classes ended for the year.

Use the passive voice to help create emphasis.

When you want to emphasize an experiment or describe a process, the passive voice is a good choice. Also the passive voice can help you use the end of a sentence emphatically. Here's an example of these reasons to use the passive voice:

School buildings around the state have been deteriorating for years. Heavy snow and rainfall has caused the roofs of many schools to leak. One middle school in Fairfield is reported to have such an ineffective heating system that students wear stocking caps to class. Because of increasing enrollments, classes are often held in hallways, temporary trailers, and even the libraries. Good learning environments are being compromised. The state legislature has not yet acted to solve these problems, but they must take up the issue soon.

In this paragraph, can you understand the worsening condition of the schools being described? Can you feel the emphatic weight of the last word?

Now you decide which of these two sentences is better:

Two juniors won the national debating tournament.

The national debating tournament was won by two juniors.

Doesn't the writer have to have a plan and focus in order to choose which voice will be more effective?