Law School

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice Recap for Law Students

active voice vs. passive voice

As a non-native English speaker, I rarely had the opportunity to apply my knowledge on active voice vs. passive voice distinction on a daily basis.

I used to have real encounter of these topics only in my high school and college English classes (which, by the way, has been more than a decade ago).

So, when I went to law school, I was kind of clueless which of the two to use on my legal writing, or in law school. Worse, I didn’t know which of these voices I’m using at a given time.

I don’t want these to happen to you. Hence, I decided to put up this short recap to help you, my fellow aspiring lawyers, on this matter.

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice Short Review

Let’s begin refreshing our memory on what active and passive voices are.

A sentence is in active voice if its subject performs the action, which the verb refers to. Here, you’ll notice that the sentence gives emphasis on the subject as the doer of the action.

For example:

Juana ate the last piece of cake in the fridge.

On the other hand, a sentence is in the passive voice if the subject no longer does the action. Instead, it becomes the one acted upon. Here, the subject becomes the receiver of the action and the emphasis shifts on the action itself.

Example: The last piece of cake in the fridge was eaten by Juana.

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice — which is which?

There are ways to know whether the sentence is in active or passive voice.

First, I look for the prepositional phrase in which the subject (a noun or pronoun) follows the preposition by. Using our example above, I know the sentence is in passive voice if I see the phrase by Juana.

However, there are times when writers don’t use the by + subject phrase.

How would you then know if a sentence is in passive voice?

When is a sentence in the passive voice even without the by + subject phrase

Well, there are certain techniques you can use.

First, what I’d do is I’ll look for the verb phrase first. After that, I’ll check if the verb is in its past participle form. If it is, then, the sentence is surely in its passive voice.

In the abovementioned example, our giveaway is the verb phrase “…eaten by Juana“.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to use this strategy when verb’s past and past participle forms are the same.

An example of this would be the verb “bake”. It is “baked” when transformed both in its past and past participle forms, you

In situations like this, you’ll have to look for the doer of the action or the subject.

Let’s use a different examples to demonstrate this:

The COVID-19 vaccine was administered.

Here, the verb phrase used is “was administered“. If you may recall, this is the past tense of the word administer. However, the past participle of administer is “administered” too.

So, we now apply the second strategy — find the subject or doer of the action. A sentence is in passive voice if the subject is either missing or found after the verb phrase.

In the example given, the doer of the action is missing. Therefore, it is in the passive voice.

Help out a fellow law student and share this short recap with them

Knowing the active voice vs. passive voice distinction is not hard as it seems. You just need a recap of concepts and you’re good to go.

If you know someone — a law student in particular — who’s having a hard time determining which voice to use on his law school writing or legal writing, this short guide might just be the one they’re looking for.

So, help out a fellow aspiring lawyer. Feel free to share this article with them.

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Happy writing and studying!

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