Active voice is used in a phrase in which the subject performs an action which is then expressed through a verb.
The active voice structure occurs when the subject directly does something or performs an action directly, and then uses a transitive verb to show that action. The latter refers to a verb that links the subject with the object that’s receiving the action. The emphasis in this kind of sentence is placed on who or what is taking the action rather than who or what is receiving the action.
Explore the Active Voice
Definition of Active Voice
The active voice always conforms to the following structure: subject + verb + object. The subject performs the action which is expressed by the verb, and received by the object.
There is an endless number of possible examples. For instance: “Joey cleaned his room before school.” In this sentence, “Joey” is the subject, “cleaned” is the verb, and “room” is the object that the subject is acting on.
Examples of Active Voice Sentences
- Cats love catnip.
- The florist arranged the flowers.
- The meteor hit the earth.
- The car ran off the road.
- Fathers love their daughters.
- Zebras roam the savannah.
- I read the novel in one day.
- He painted the whole house.
Examples of Active Voice in Literature
The first example of active voice comes from one of the many important quotes from J.D. Salinger’s masterpiece, The Cather in the Rye. In these lines, the speaker is introducing details about his childhood.
They’re nice and all—I’m not saying that – but they’re also touchy as hell. Besides, I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything.
In these lines, Salinger’s use of active voice is quite obvious. It’s here that the narrator, Holden Caulfield, introduces his intention. He uses words like “saying” and “going” in an active voice.
Explore J.D. Salinger’s best books.
Hatchet by Gary Paulson
In this well-loved novel, readers can find a great example of active voice at the beginning of the novel. In which the protagonist, Brian, is about to embark on an incredible adventure in the wilderness.
Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below. It was a small plane, a Cessna 406—a bush plane—and the engine was so loud, so roaring and consuming and loud, that it ruined any chance for conversation.
The first line contains the subject “Brian Robeson,” the verb “stared out,” and the object “window.” There is another example in the last few lines when Paulson writes “it ruined any chance for conversation.” “It,” the plane engine, is the subject, “ruined” is the verb, and “any chance for conversation” is a prepositional object.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The following lines come from Fitzgerald’s best-known novel, The Great Gatsby. In this passage, the writer describes how Daisy reacts after receiving a letter from Gatsby. She’s engaged to another, but through this description, it’s clear how emotionally torn she is.
She wouldn’t let go of the letter. She took it into the tub with her and squeezed it up into a wet ball, and only let me leave it in the soap dish when she saw that it was coming to pieces like snow.
In the first line of this passage, Fitzgerald uses “She” as the subject, “let go” as the verb, and “the letter” as the object. It occurs again with “She,” “took,” and “it” in the following line.
When to Use Active Voice or Passive Voice
In most cases, style guides, writing instructors, and editors prefer active voice over passive voice. It helps with clarity and often makes sentences easier to read. Too many examples of passive voice within one article can be detrimental to the reception of the work. Active voice also helps grab a reader’s attention by making the sentence feel more energetic. When a writer uses passive voice too often, readers can more easily lose interest in the piece of writing. But, that doesn’t mean that there are no occasions in which passive voice should be used.
Why Do Writers Use Active Voice?
Writers use active voice in everything from creative writing to academic papers and business reports because it is clear and to the point. It easily grabs the reader’s attention and makes use that their mind does not drift away from what the writer is focused on. In comparison to passive voice, active voice makes sentences come alive and fill them with energy. Passive voice is not wrong but it important for writers to always be aware of which one they’re using. There are cases where the latter is more suited to the subject.
Related Literary Terms
- Narration: the use of commentary, either written or spoken, to tell a story or “narrative.”
- Narrative Hook: appears at the beginning of a piece of literature and is used to “hook” or capture the reader’s attention.
- First Person Point of View: a literary style in which the narrator tells a story about him or herself.
- Omniscient Narrator: a narrator who knows what’s happening at all times, and all points, of the story.