Active and Passive Voice

Active voice is when the subject is doing the action or existing as the status.  Here are two examples:

Martese plants flowers in the spring. (Martese is doing the action.)
Jade is tall. (Jade is existing in a particular status.)

Generally, we speak and write in active voice which is considered more clear and direct.

Passive voice is when the sentence is phrased so that something is being done to the subject. Here is an example:

The ring was placed on the table. (The action is happening to the subject.)

Passive voice is appropriately used when the purpose of the sentence is what was done to the subject and not the action of the subject.

Point of View/Person

Whether we are writing or speaking, we use language from a point of view – our own personal perspective.  As a literary tool, however, point of view is not exactly the same as perspective.  A writer may alter point of view and speak from another perspective, such as the reader’s or listener’s point of view, or from a bystander’s or third person’s point of view in addition to our own.

Consequently, there are said to be three persons in writing:

First person – I, w, me, use, my, our

Second person – you, your including omitted (understood) you sentences where the subject you is dropped such as in commands or instructions

Third person – he, she, it, they, him, her, them, his, hers, theirs or any noun such as people, society, parents, society, students, teachers

When we speak, we use person informally.  We frequently use first person I and second person you and we shift between all three voices.  When we write, we have to be consistent and specific. Here is an example.

Pronoun shift: I went to that restaurant because you know it has the best pizza.

This has an illogical shift. It literally is not conveying the intended meaning. I didn’t go to that restaurant because you knew it has the best pizza.

Corrected: I went there because I knew it had the best pizza.

Sometimes for a formal paper or a specific assignment, an instructor may tell you to not use the first (I, me, my, we, us, our) or second person (you, your). Third person is more removed and lends a more academic tone.

First Person: In my opinion, the best way to resolve problems with children is through the parents.

When we want to establish ourselves as an authority instead of simply giving our opinion, it is critical to use third person and not first person.

Third Person RestatementThe best way to resolve problems with children is through the parents.

Using Second Person creates a lack of clarify.

Second Person: You should know what your children are doing.

While we use you in everyday speech, the use is really not a specific reference.  It is just meant s a general expression.  In writing, we should be specific.  Literally, this sentence doesn’t say what it means.  The you not intended to include every reader.  There are readers who do not have children.  There are readers whose children are not living at home.

Third Person Restatement: Parents with children living at home should know what their children are doing.

When you give directions or advice to the reader, you are using omitted you second person.  Be sure to proofread carefully.  Even though the word you is not expressed, it is understood.

Second Person Implied (Understood) You: Look carefully before crossing the street.

The implied (understood) subject is you.

Third Person Restatement: Pedestrians should look carefully before crossing the street.

Generally, second person (you, your) should not be used in college writing. First person may be appropriate for particular assignments depending upon the instructions.  When in doubt, it is safer not to use first person (I, me, my, we, us, our) unless of course the assignment calls for a personal response. Always check with your instructor.

In fiction writing, authors use point of view or voice in different ways to further the story.  Some even adopt a first person point of view when it was not even their personal experiences they are writing about.

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