Has a passive voice ever been written by you? Your writing may have been affected by it.
The above paragraph sounds clunky, doesn’t it? That’s because I used a passive voice instead of an active voice.
In an active voice, the subject does something to the object, which makes the sentence sound strong and capable. Active voice is stronger and more exciting. It puts the subject in the driver’s seat and in control of the sentence, so to speak, rather than just riding along in the passenger’s seat. An active voice adds action, clarity and strength. In the passive voice, by comparison, the object has something inflicted upon it by the subject. Playing the victim causes the passive voice – and even your writing overall – to sound wimpy. The passive voice also tends to be wordier and a little less informative.
Writing in the Active Voice with a Little Help from Zombies
Professor Rebecca Johnson came up with a clever way to tell the difference between a sentence written in an active voice and one penned in a passive voice: Simply add the phrase “by zombies” to the end of the sentence, and if it makes sense, it is passive voice.
Here is an example:
Passive Voice: “Eggs were made for Lynn by zombies” (the sentence makes sense, so it is passive)
Active Voice: “Someone made eggs for Lynn by zombies” (the sentence does not make sense, so it is in the active voice)
A Passive Voice isn’t Always Bad
A passive voice is not always bad, though. In fact, a passive voice can sometimes express ideas better than can an active voice. The first sentence seems to flow a little better than the second one, for example:
“Lynn wrote several articles in a passive voice before she was corrected by her editor.”
“Lynn wrote several articles in a passive voice before her editor corrected her.”
Scientists also tend to use passive voice to keep the focus on the science rather than on the scientists. When we say, “Lynn was placed in the maze,” for example, we can assume that the scientists placed the me in the maze (probably with the promise of cheese at the finish line) to keep the reader’s attention on the experiment at hand.
While the passive voice isn’t always bad, using an active voice most of the time can improve the overall quality of your writing.
Lynn H has been a professional writer, providing exceptional content online and offline, for nearly 20 years. In that time, she has penned thousands of articles for doctors, universities, researchers, small businesses, nursing organizations, sole proprietors and more. She writes everything from blogs to white papers; her specialty is putting complex scientific concepts in simple terms. She specializes in medical writing, creating informative and engaging content for professionals in medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, medical manufacturing, chiropractics, optometry, emergency care, plastic surgery and others.