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Active vs. Passive: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 17, 2023
Active refers to involving direct action or participation. Passive refers to involving inaction or lack of direct involvement.

Key Differences

Active involves direct action, engagement, or participation, implying energy and initiative. In grammar, an active voice indicates that the subject of the sentence performs the action. Conversely, passive implies a lack of action or a state of receiving actions rather than initiating them. In grammar, a passive voice means the subject is acted upon.
In an active role, individuals take initiative, make decisions, and directly influence outcomes. In a passive role, individuals may allow events to unfold without direct intervention, often observing or being affected by actions rather than leading them.
Active involvement often suggests control, direct impact, and responsibility for outcomes. Passive involvement suggests a more observational stance, allowing others to take the lead and influence outcomes.
In communication, an active approach involves direct expression, initiative in dialogue, and clear articulation of thoughts. A passive approach may involve more listening than speaking, holding back opinions, or allowing others to dominate the conversation.
Active participation is often seen as proactive, taking steps to cause or influence events. Passive participation is reactive, responding to events rather than initiating them.

Comparison Chart


Direct action, engagement
Lack of action, observing


Subject performs action
Subject is acted upon


Initiating, decision-making
Observing, allowing events to unfold


More control and influence
Less direct control


Direct expression, taking initiative
Listening, holding back


Proactive, influencing events
Reactive, responding to events

Active and Passive Definitions


Engaged in action.
She remained active in community service throughout her life.


Inactive, inert.
The chemicals remained passive under those conditions.


Energetic, lively.
He’s an active child, always running around.


Not participating actively.
She remained passive during the debate.


Functioning or operative.
The volcano is still active.


In grammar, subject is acted upon.
The cat was chased by the dog (passive voice).


Taking initiative.
She played an active role in the project’s success.


Accepting without resistance.
He took a passive approach to the conflict.


In grammar, subject performs action.
The dog chased the cat (active voice).


Receptive rather than active.
He was passive in his learning style.


Being in physical motion
Active fish in the aquarium.


Receiving or subjected to an action without responding or initiating an action in return
The mind viewed as a passive receptacle for sensory experience.


Functioning or capable of functioning.


What's the main difference between active and passive?

Active involves direct action or participation, while passive involves inaction or lack of direct involvement.

How do active and passive voice affect tone in writing?

Active voice often creates a more direct, dynamic tone, while passive can be more formal or distant.

Can a passive approach be strategic?

Yes, sometimes a passive approach can be a strategic choice, especially in complex situations.

How does active voice impact sentence structure?

Active voice leads to straightforward sentence structures with the subject performing the action.

Is using passive voice grammatically incorrect?

No, passive voice is grammatically correct but should be used judiciously.

Are there risks to being too active?

Yes, overactivity without rest can lead to burnout or physical exhaustion.

Does active participation improve learning?

Yes, active participation often enhances engagement and retention in learning environments.

Is active voice preferred over passive in writing?

Generally, active voice is preferred for clarity and conciseness, but passive can be useful in some contexts.

Do active verbs enhance writing?

Yes, active verbs can make writing more engaging and dynamic.

Can an active mindset improve productivity?

Yes, an active mindset often leads to higher productivity and better outcomes.

Does passive voice have a place in academic writing?

Yes, passive voice is often used in academic writing to maintain objectivity or focus on the action.

Is passive voice less effective in communication?

Passive voice can be less direct, but it has its uses, like emphasizing the action over the actor.

Can an active lifestyle impact health?

Yes, an active lifestyle is generally associated with better physical and mental health.

Can an active approach lead to better problem-solving?

Often, yes, as active approaches involve direct engagement and initiative.

Should passive voice be avoided in resumes?

Generally, active voice is more impactful on resumes, highlighting achievements and actions.

Can a sentence be both active and passive?

No, a sentence is either in active voice (subject acts) or passive voice (subject is acted upon).

Can a person be both active and passive?

Yes, a person can display active behavior in some situations and passive in others.

Can passive behavior be beneficial?

Yes, in certain situations, being passive can prevent conflicts or allow better observation.

Are passive people always non-confrontational?

Not always, but passive individuals may tend to avoid confrontations more than active individuals.

Is passive listening effective?

Active listening is generally more effective, but passive listening has its place in some contexts.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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