I have a question about the interchangeability of "receive" and "be given" in this context:

  1. He received substantial playing time in the game.
  2. He was given substantial playing time in the game.

It is well known that the active voice is preferred over the passive voice. So, sentence 1 seems to be better than sentence 2. But it seems that sentence 1 sounds (to my limited experience) weird compared to sentence 2. What do native speakers think? Should I use "receive" (active) or "be given" (passive)?

  • 1
    I'm not a native speaker but using the passive depends of your style and focus. I don't see as a matter of to be better.
    – Schwale
    Dec 9, 2015 at 10:14
  • Stop your statement It is well known that... You probably mean It is taught by some that... whereas the correct formulation should end with ...in some contexts for some meanings. In other words, an active construction is very much not always preferred to a passive one.
    – user20792
    Dec 9, 2015 at 10:24
  • As for the two sentences, Sentence 1 sounds completely natural and, to me, very much preferable to Sentence 2.
    – user20792
    Dec 9, 2015 at 10:26

3 Answers 3


There's nothing particularly wrong with the first sentence.

However, if you feel it's not up to standards, dance around it: force the second sentence into the active voice:

The coach gave the player more playing minutes than the latter deserved in that game. Needless to say, the team lost, and, upon some reflection, the management fired the coach and gave the player a raise.

  • So, the sentence using "received" is poorly written?
    – meatie
    Dec 9, 2015 at 7:39
  • @meatie: I didn't say that. It's okay. The other one sounds a notch better, though.
    – Ricky
    Dec 9, 2015 at 7:47

Choosing between active and passive voice is often made for stylistic reasons, because we want a certain word to be the subject of the sentence so that it fits with the topic and flow of the text. Compare:

The instructor gave substantial playing time in the game.
(Focus on the agent.)
Substantial playing time was given by the instructor.
(Focus on the action.)


The active voice here would be the act carried out by the active actor.

In this case, giving is the activity. Receiving is simply being the passive receptor of the giver's gift.

So the truly active form is "[some person] gave him substantial playing time in the game."

The key thing to note is that to provide the sentence in the active form requires you to know, and to specify, who carried out the action.

The passive voice only requires you to know the receiver of the action.

e.g. having only read the sentences in the question, I do not know who gave the playing time. So I had to give the a temporary placeholder in my example sentence, which I can replace as soon as I know who actually gave the gift.

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