You should always avoid using the passive voice in writing as much as you can.
But sometimes it isn’t easy to spot when you are doing a quick proofread of your text. A much easier, and more accurate way to locate a passive sentence or passive construction is to use an online passive voice detector.
There are many free online tools you can use to help you. The bonus is that many of them will help you find other grammar errors and spelling mistakes as well.
The best tools will give you options or examples to change a phrase written in the passive voice to the active voice. But before I get to my list of useful tools, it worth understanding the difference between active and passive voice.
What is the passive voice?
Writing in the passive voice is a bad habit. But like all habits, you can break it if you put your mind to it.
When you can identify where you are using a passive verb phrase in your writing, you can change it to the active voice.
After a while, it will become a good new habit to write in the active voice.
When you write a sentence using the passive, it doesn’t tell the reader who is doing something.
The reader knows something is happening or happened. But they have no way of knowing who did it.
It comes about when the subject of the sentence is not performing the action of the verb in the sentence.
The structure of the passive voice is the verb to be plus the past participle. It can also use the verbs to have and to get in the causative form.
With passive voice sentences, because of the form of the verb, we don’t know who is performing the action unless we add an operator.
For example, in the passive voice, the subject is usually a thing and not a person.
The house was built in 1970.
We don’t know who built the house because the house receives the action of the verb.
The house was built in 1970 by John.
Now we know who built the house because John is the operator. But the house, the sentence subject, is acted upon by the passive verb.
But if we change to the active voice, the subject is a person who is performing the action of the verb. Then the sentence is much easier to understand.
John built this house in 1970.
Now it is clear who built the house.
Use the active voice
In English language writing, subject-verb active sentences are always the best option.
You should use the active form in articles, fiction, blog posts and any form of messaging, email or general correspondence.
But in business and scientific writing, passive is used a little more frequently.
It is because there may be a need not to say who did something or to apportion blame.
A prepositional phrase is often used to introduce a topic.
In reply to your complaint, your delivery was delayed due to unforeseen circumstance.
There is also the causative form. It is sometimes called the have or get something done form. Again we don’t know who performs the action.
Take a look at these examples to help you identify the problem.
I really need to have my car serviced.
Joe has to get his hair cut before his interview.
You should have your blood pressure checked.
Are you going to get your computer repaired?
In the examples above, we don’t know who is performing the action.
We need to change these sentences to the active form.
It is an easy fix. Make sure that you have a person as the subject of the sentence who is performing the action of the main verb.
I really need to have the garage service my car.
Joe has to get the barber to cut his hair before his interview.
You should have your doctor check your blood pressure.
Are you going to get Apple to repair your computer?
Active voice is always a better choice than passive or causative. It is clearer and much easier for readers to understand.
All you need to do is use a passive voice checker to find the structures in your text and re-write them in the active form.
Read more: A guide to passive and causative structures and how to avoid using them.
The best free tools to find passive sentences and correct them
Prowritingaid is terrific writing tool and I use it a lot to improve and correct my writing.
I use it mostly for checking long-form writing because there are just so many reports to help me improve a text.
But it is also an excellent tool for finding and correcting passive structures.
As you can see from the image above, ProWritingAid finds the passive but also gives you helpful clues about how to fix your sentences.
Unlike other apps, the suggestions are based on the actual words in your sentence, so it is a very quick and easy fix for you.
Just click the one you prefer to automatically change your sentence to active voice. Or you can edit your sentence using a different subject.
It is no surprise that Grammarly is my number two choice.
That is because I use it every day, day in and day out for my online writing.
For me, it is always on. Then it is only a matter of one click, and I can find and re-write any passive sentences.
Here is a screengrab of my Grammarly editor for this post as I was writing it in WordPress.
You can see the passive structures are highlighted for you. On the right, there is an explanation and examples of how to change the voice.
It makes it easy for me to find any passive forms. Then I can quickly change and re-write these sentences to active voice.
The reason I have Grammary in second place is that it doesn’t use your words as Prowritingaid does. But it still does a great job.
You can read our full Grammarly review for more details.
3. Hemingway App
The Hemingway App is very well known as a great passive voice detector.
This is true. It is super fast and it gives you a very clear green highlight for every passive structure it finds in your writing.
But then it is up to you to change your sentences.
The Hemingway Editor doesn’t give you any examples. So there are no hints to help you re-phrase your sentences in the active construction.
4. Ginger Grammar
Ginger grammar is super quick and easy to use as a free Chrome extension.
For bloggers, this is a great free tool to have.
It will work in unison with whatever blog editor you use on your site.
Ginger will clearly underline any passive forms in your text. Then you can re-write them in the active form.
With the browser extension, you can correct your writing anytime you are writing online.
But one of the bonus features of Ginger is the sentence checker that uses contextual spelling correction.
It will mark your spelling errors based on the context of your sentence. It will find mistakes including bare and bear, to and too and many other common homonyms.
5. Grammar Check
If you want a really quick and easy way to check for passive in your writing, you can try Grammar Check.
It is an online app that is free to use and you don’t even need to register or supply your email address.
That’s a nice change from a lot of free apps that pester you for your details.
You don’t need to download any software either. All you need to do is paste in your text and then check for any words that are underlined.
When you click on the underlined text the app will tell you if it is the passive voice.
There is also an option to give you an explanation about the grammar point.
That is quite a lot of help for you from a simple free online app.
All of the free grammar tools I have mentioned above will do a great job for you. They will help you to write better and more accurately.
They will find your passive structures very fast, and then you can get to work on fixing them.
It doesn’t take much time to change to active sentences. It will improve your writing clarity.
No matter which one you select to use, you will be making a good choice.
I suppose ProWritingAid and Grammarly stand out for me because they come with many more features and tools
They are the two that will give you a lot more help when you are re-writing your passive sentences.