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Active and passive voice

Active voice is generally better than passive voice because it is shorter, clearer, and more modern. Readers mentally convert passive voice to active voice, which takes more effort.

The difference between active voice and passive voice is as follows:

  • Active voice describes a sentence where something or someone is doing something.
  • Passive voice describes a sentence where something or someone is having something done to them.

In most cases, use active voice. The problem with passive voice is that it obscures some information — for example, if you write “A new window is opened,” it’s not clear who or what is opening it.

“A new window is opened” could mean any of the following:

  • Open a new window
  • Unity opens a new window
  • The operating system opens a new window
  • Your application opens a new window
  • Your housemate opens the new kitchen window.

Tip: If you’re not sure whether you’re using active or passive voice, find the verb (the word that describes the main action taking place, like “opened” in our example above), and then place the phrase “by zombies” immediately after it. If the sentence makes grammatical sense (for example, “a new window is opened by zombies”) then you’ve written it in passive voice.

PassiveActive
The icon is selected to trigger the effect.
  • Select the icon to trigger the effect.
  • The user selects icon to trigger the effect.
An error message is displayed.
  • Unity displays an error message.
  • The operating system displays an error message.
The GameObject must be selected.
  • Select the GameObject.
  • You must select the GameObject.

Exceptions

There are some situations where passive voice might be more appropriate, usually if you want to place focus on the receiver of the action, obscure the actor, or avoid a complicated sentence structure. In these cases, it's okay to use passive voice if the following points are both true:

  • There are multiple things that could be taking the action, and there is no better way to write it.
  • It is obvious to the reader who or what could be taking the action.

For example, upgrade guides, release notes, and changelogs sometimes use passive voice because the focus is on the feature that was updated, and it's clear that Unity made the change. As another example, you could say "a method is called" in the following circumstances:

  • There are multiple things that could be calling the method.
  • It's not important what's calling the method.
  • There is a good chance the reader understands what might call the method.