Paizo Top Nav Branding
  • Hello, Guest! |
  • Sign In |
  • My Account |
  • Shopping Cart |
  • Help/FAQ
About Paizo Messageboards News Paizo Blog Help/FAQ

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game


Pathfinder Society

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Active Voice vs Passive Voice

Scenario Submission Talk

Sovereign Court

Looking through the submissions that have been posted for the various PFS open calls, it seems to me that many people are struggling with the Active Voice vs Passive Voice. I know that I'm one of them! I rather struggled with it during my attempt at a submission (not that I sent it in)

So, with that in mind, I looked up what they were, and found an excellent guide to them, which I figured might be helpful to share with people. This is from the BBC News Style Guide PDF. (And if you can't trust the BBC to have good English, who can you trust? The French?)


Activity is interesting. Where you can, write sentences with subjects that are doing things, and not subjects that are simply receiving actions upon them. Compare these two sentences:

• A meeting will be held by the company’s directors next week.

• The company’s directors will meet next week.

The first is an example of what grammarians call the passive voice; the second is the active voice. Don’t be put off, it’s really very simple.

Active voice: A does B.
Passive voice: B is done (usually by A).

The active voice will help give your scripts some vitality and life. It can also make a weak sentence more emphatic and give it greater impact. Compare these examples.The first is in the passive, the second active:

• There were riots in several towns in Northern
England last night, in which police clashed with
stone-throwing youths.

• Youths throwing stones clashed with police during
riots in several towns in Northern England last night.

The there is, there are construction is overused.Why waste time stating that something exists when you could get on and describe the action?The imagery in the second version is so much more vivid and powerful and helps the audience to imagine what went on.

Sometimes, though, the passive is better.

Active: A rhinoceros trampled on Prince Edward
at a safari park today.

Passive: Prince Edward was trampled on by a
rhinoceros at a safari park today.

In this example, the focus of the story is Prince Edward, not the rhinoceros, and it is the royal name you probably want at the beginning of the sentence because that is where it will have most impact.

Governments, politicians, and officials of all kinds love the passive because individual actions are buried beneath a cloak of collective responsibility.They say mistakes were made instead of we made mistakes, and use phrases such as in the circumstances it was considered and it will be recognised that and it was felt necessary that. Used in this way, the passive takes the life out of the action and distances it from any identifiable source.When things go well, the minister or company chairman or football manager says: “I decided on this course of action.” When the response is less positive, this becomes: “It was thought to be the right thing to do at the time.”


I hope this helps people!

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

In more detail:

A declarative sentence has two parts: the bit that identifies what you are talking about - the "subject", and what you are saying about that thing: the "predicate".

Subjects are nouns. Thing words. There are a few ways to make a noun.

First, you can use a name of something (a proper noun):
* Paizo
* Mike
* Canberra

You can use a pronoun:
* he, she, it

You can use a regular noun with an article:
* a bird
* the plane

Predicates always have a verb. A verb is an "action" word. Run. Hit.

There are two kinds of verb: transitive and intransitive. Transitive verbs are where something is doing something to something else:

A hit B.

Intransitive verbs are when this is not the case.

A ran.
A died.

Also, we use the verb "to be" (was, is, am, will be) when there isn't really an action:

"The sky is blue".

Now then:

When we use a transitive verb, we have to identify the "other end" of the verb with a noun (the "object"), which works the same as picking a subject:

Mike hit Jeff.
Mike hit the kobold.
Mike hit it.

Passive voice is where we use the object of a transitive verb as a subject of a sentence.

Jeff was hit by Mike.

There are a couple of interesting things here. Firstly, the verb in the predicate "was hit by Mike" is "was". Think about it - "was hit by Mike" has the same verb as "is blue". We have "wrapped" the active verb "hit" and made it into a subordinate adjectival clause.

Secondly, we can remove the adverbial clause "by Mike" (it describes the verb 'hit') and still have a legit sentence:

Jeff was hit.

We wind up with a sentence which is grammatical, but where the verb "hit" is missing what really should be its subject. The result is a weird situation where stuff happens, but no agent doing the stuff is identified. Spooky: stuff moving around by itself. Jeff being hit by no-one in particular.

As a result, the sentence sort of slips through your mind's grasp, because there's no way to make a picture of what it is describing.

It's a grammatical trick much beloved of people who don't actually want to blame anyone for things, or who have to make a statement but don't want to, or don't want you to register what they are actually saying:

"The market was goosed today when large investments were placed at 10am."

It's also used when describing science experiments, where the idea is that the persons adding the reagent are irrelevant.

(now - how many times did I use passive voice above? I can see one already :) )

The Exchange ***** RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

1 person marked this as a favorite.

To reinforce what Paul says:

Oftentimes, the Passive Voice is a useful tool when you're writing a scenario, because the writer needs to describe how things ought to happen when some indeterminate individual takes some triggering action, but the writer doesn't know which PC might do that action.

When the lid of the sarcophagous is raised...

It's also important to note that whether a clause uses the Passive Voice or not is ambiguous in English. "Noun N was something-ed" is sometimes an example of PV, but othertimes, "something-ed" might be nothing more than an adjective.

The yappy puppy familiar exhausted Galdalf by running around all day. shifts into PV as: Galdalf was exhausted by the yappy puppy familiar running around all day.

But most people wouldn't say that Gandalf was exhausted, bruised, and at wit's end. is in PV.

The Exchange *****

Uzzy wrote:
can't trust the BBC to have good English, who can you trust? The French?)

You should! We Rock!

Uzzy wrote:

You are right that passive is correct(er) in many instances. However, it also makes a text MUCH heavier when you have players before you, asking all types of question and you have to find the information. Then the info is buried in 'Should', 'has been'.

A good adventure text should read like a short story and be interesting to the GM as he reads it.

The examples you give are correct, but how is "Mike hit Jeff" any less valid than "Jeff was hit by Mike"?
1- Word Count (3 vs. 5)
2- You were asked for active tense (ie: can you follow simple direction).
Yes, this is a simple sentence, but which of them give you more information? Which tells you more? Neither. You know that someone hit another.

If you are having issues, I invite you to contact me, I can help by pre-editing or giving you pointers on how to do it. (

And yes, I'm French (Canadian, of French descent)

And for those who suffered from "eye glaze" even trying to read the first post:

Active Voice: The Subject does Verb on Direct Object.
e.g. The dog (subject) ate (verb) the apple (direct object).

Passive Voice: The Subject receives Verb from Direct Object.
e.g. The apple (subject) was eaten (verb) by the dog (direct object).

That's an extremely simple explanation and example but since, at least in the US, grammar is rarely taught after 5th grade and no one has to learn about diagraming sentences anymore, sometimes simpler is better.

Not many people know, care, or would remember that the word "the" used in the above example is a Determiner.

If you really want to learn English grammar there are plenty of good sites to help get you started at. That way you won't do things like ending a sentence with a preposition ;) Then you too can learn about the joys of Appositives, Correlative Conjunctions, Interrupters, Parallel Structures, and Subordinate Clauses just to name a few!

If you get really good you can start mocking people who insist on using the word "trend" as a verb just like people 20 years ago mocked people who used the words "reference" and "access" as verbs.

And yes, I'm mainly just mocking myself with this post. Feel free to ignore the entire thing. In retrospect, I probably should have said that at the beginning. :)


Grand Lodge

Chris Mortika wrote:

When the lid of the sarcophagous is raised...

I'd just like to point out that you can easily write this phrase in active voice:

"When one of the PC's raises the sarcophagus lid..." or

"When the PC's raise the sarcophagus lid..."

Here are some other good sources about active and passive voice:

Active Voice

Passive Voice

Active Voice Versus Passive Voice

Sovereign Court ***

There seems to be a lot of thought in the literature on the matter. I think that depending on the story being told, passive can be a powerful tool. The passive vs active is hardly a reason to disregard a good story. If anything it can be rewritten.

Paizo / Messageboards / Paizo / Pathfinder® / Pathfinder Society® / Scenario Submission Talk / Active Voice vs Passive Voice All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.
Recent threads in Scenario Submission Talk

©2002–2016 Paizo Inc.®. Need help? Email or call 425-250-0800 during our business hours: Monday–Friday, 10 AM–5 PM Pacific Time. View our privacy policy. Paizo Inc., Paizo, the Paizo golem logo, Pathfinder, the Pathfinder logo, Pathfinder Society, GameMastery, and Planet Stories are registered trademarks of Paizo Inc., and Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Pathfinder Adventure Path, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Pathfinder Player Companion, Pathfinder Modules, Pathfinder Tales, Pathfinder Battles, Pathfinder Online, PaizoCon, RPG Superstar, The Golem's Got It, Titanic Games, the Titanic logo, and the Planet Stories planet logo are trademarks of Paizo Inc. Dungeons & Dragons, Dragon, Dungeon, and Polyhedron are registered trademarks of Wizards of the Coast, Inc., a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc., and have been used by Paizo Inc. under license. Most product names are trademarks owned or used under license by the companies that publish those products; use of such names without mention of trademark status should not be construed as a challenge to such status.