Voice describes the relationship between a verb and the subject and object associated with it.

  • Active voice: the subject of a sentence is followed by the verb and then the object of the verb (e.g., “the children ate the cookies”).
  • Passive voice: the object of the verb is followed by the verb (usually a form of “to be” + past participle + the word “by”) and then the subject (e.g., “the cookies were eaten by the children”). If the subject is omitted (e.g., “the cookies were eaten”), it may result in confusion about who performed the action (did the children eat the cookies, or was it the dog?).

Both the active and the passive voice are permitted in APA Style. However, writers often overuse the passive voice.

  • Use the active voice as much as possible to create direct, clear, and concise sentences, especially when you are writing about the actions of people.
  • Use the passive voice when it is more important to focus on the recipient of an action than on who performed the action, such as when describing an experimental setup.

Active and passive voice are covered in Section 4.13 of the APA Publication Manual, Seventh Edition

Date created: September 2019