Voice refers to the form which a transitive verb assumes to show whether it acts or is acted upon. This implies that the verb has two voices: active and passive.

The active voice is used when the subject of the transitive verb is the doer or the active agent in an action, while the passive voice is used when the subject is acted upon or suffers the action done to it.



I) Active voice is the name given to the verb in a sentence where the subject of the sentence is the doer of the action, while passive voice is the name given to the verb in a sentence where the receiver of the action is used as subject of the sentence.


  • Active: He killed a dog.
  • Passive: A dog was killed by him.


II) Active voice uses both transitive and intransitive verbs (E.g. He ate rice. He smiled.) but passive voice uses only transitive verbs (E.g. The rice was eaten by him). However, some transitive verbs cannot be passivised; e.g. have, cost, resemble, contains, suites, measures, get into, etc. (‘I have a bad cold’ or ‘This pen cost ten naira’ cannot be turned into the passive construction.)


III) Active voice permits indefinite subjects such as someone, somebody, one, a boy, a man, people, nobody, etc. but passive voice does not permit them.


  • Active: Someone called your name.
  • Passive: Your name was called.


IV) Active voice projects the doer of an action but passive voice emphasizes the receiver of the action and suppresses the active agent with by.


  • Active: Joseph beat my sister.
  • Passive: My Sister was beaten by Joseph.


V) Some suffixes (e.g. – ing’; -ous’, ‘-er’, ‘ -or’) largely convey active meaning and the words to which they are attached can be used mainly in active voice; but other suffixes such as -able’ , “-ible’, ‘ -ee’ are passive in meaning and can be used in the passive voice; however, ‘ -ous’, may be either active or passive in some sentences (e.g. He is a suspicious character) while some ` -ee’, (e.g. absentee, referee, refugee, trustee, etc). Do not bear the passive meaning.


  • Active word: farming, desirous, worker, tutor, etc.
  • Passive words: desirable, incredible, payee, etc.


VI) Different tenses in the passive voice are made by using different parts of the verb “to be” with the past participle but the verb “to be” is not required to build the verb phrase in the active voice.

Below is a summary of the differences in form of both voices in different tenses illustrated with the verb “teach”.


VII) In the passive construction, adverb particles must not be removed from the verbs requiring them and adverbs of manner are put immediately in front of the past participles they qualify. (You will be well taken care of). But in the active construction, adverbs of manner may take end-position (John will take care of you well) and prepositions will precede the objects they govern (He will give it to you now).


VIII) An imperative sentence in the active construction begins with the active verb (Stop that! Make room for him) while its passive version is introduced with the verb let, followed by the object and the “to be” element before the main verb and any other element(s). (Let that be stopped. Let room be made for him).