Three Tips to Avoid Passive Voice and Passive Writing

On one writers board I frequent, people repeatedly warn about using forms of the verb “to be” because that would be “passive voice” and that’s bad writing. Every time I read that, my blood pressure rises a little. Allow me to differentiate between passive voice, emphasis on action, and the delights of characters who shape situations rather than just respond to them.

Passive voice

Warning: Grammar ahead

The terms “active voice” and “passive voice” apply only to transitive verbs, i.e. verbs that pass action from an actor to a receiver. In an active voice sentence, the subject of the sentence is the actor. For example, in “John hit the ball,” “John” is both the subject of the sentence and the one who’s doing the hitting. In a passive voice sentence, the subject of the sentence is the receiver of the action. For example, in “The ball was hit by John,” “ball” is the subject and is being hit.

Passive voice is useful if you want to hide the doer because you can omit the “by” phrase (The ball was hit). It’s also useful if the receiver of the action is more important than the doer (Ross Hall was built…). However, passive voice sentences are slightly but measurably slower to read and harder to comprehend. Continue reading “Three Tips to Avoid Passive Voice and Passive Writing”