Posts Tagged ‘passive voice’

The passive voice is really hated by me. And I mean it. Of course, if I really meant it, I’d say “I hate the passive voice.” See the difference?

Forgive me if you already know this, but if you don’t, here’s a little tip on how to make your writing — any writing you do — stronger. Be very selective in your use of the passive voice.

Not sure about what the passive voice is? Well, maybe a story might help.

Just the other day, as I was taking a walk, I was approached by a strange dog. As I reached down to pet him, I was bitten by him and my hand was injured. After I got home, I was driven to the emergency room by my wife, and some tests were conducted by the nurses to see if I needed rabies shots. The results will be emailed to me by my doctor.

A little forced, perhaps, but you get the idea. Now, how about this version:

Just the other day, as I was taking a walk, a strange dog approached. As I reached down to pet him, he bit me and injured my hand. After I got home, my wife drove me to the emergency room, and the nurses conducted some tests to see if I needed rabies shots. My doctor will email the results.

For one thing, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, it’s shorter. That often happens when you use the active voice. Your sentences get shorter. Punchier. More … active.

Instead of I was approached by a strange dog, you write a strange dog approached. Instead of I was bitten by him, you write He bit me. Instead of some tests were conducted by the nurses you write the nurses conducted some tests.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but what’s happening here is you are creating a closer connection between the actor and the action. You are writing about something (a subject) that DID something (a verb), as opposed to writing about something that had something done to it. And when your writing showcases action, it’s stronger. It’s as simple as that.

There are times when the passive voice is better. In fact, you’ll often see it in formal reports or in the newspaper. Why? Because the passive voice can lend an air of objectivity that is sometimes important. Writing in the passive voice, it is possible to talk about actions without talking about actors at all. This puts the emphasis on the action, as opposed to the actor. For instance, in a scientific paper, you might read:

These findings were confirmed in multiple tests, instead of Researchers confirmed these findings in multiple tests. Here, it’s the findings that matter most, not the finders.

In a newspaper, you might find:

The fire, which took three lives, was called suspicious, instead of Authorities called the fire, which took three lives, suspicious. Here, it’s the fire that the writer wants to draw attention to, not the authorities.

In the end, becoming a better writer is not simply about learning to follow the rules (about capitalization, for example). It’s also about learning to make conscious and deliberate choices about the way you construct a sentence or a paragraph, about which verb best describes the action you are trying to relay, about whether to use the active or passive voice, and much more. It’s about having an end in mind, and tweaking the way you use your words until you get there.

Of course, this is just an opinion held by me, the person this post was written by.


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