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Writing 101: What is Passive Voice?

Writing 101: What is Passive Voice? Posted on May 12, 2019Leave a comment

‘Don’t use passive voice in your writing.’

If you have ever researched how to be a better writer, you will have come across this tip at some point. It is one of the most widely shared pieces of writing advice out there — and for good reason.

Writing in passive voice is a surefire way of getting spotted as an amateur writer. But what exactly is passive voice? And, most importantly, how can we cut it out of our writing.

What is passive voice? And, most importantly, how can you cut it out of your writing? Here's everything you need to kick this bad writing habit.

Let’s begin by summarising what passive voice actually is.

Passive voice is when the object of the active sentence is written as the subject.

On the surface, this definition can sound rather confusing. But don’t worry because we’re about to dive into some examples.

Passive Voice

The dog was walked

OR

The dog was walked by Alfie.

Active Voice

Alfie walked the dog.

In this sentence, Alfie is the subject. He is driving the action in the sentence. The dog is the object because it is receiving Alfie’s actions.

The word ‘by’ and ‘was’ are good indications that you have used passive voice in a sentence. Of course, it’s just something the bear in mind when scanning through your sentences. If you see either of these two words, just take a second to review the sentence.

What is passive voice? And, most importantly, how can you cut it out of your writing? Here's everything you need to kick this bad writing habit.

Example 2

Passive Voice

The day was ruined by Amy’s temper tantrum.

Active Voice

Amy ruined the day with her temper tantrum.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Passive Voice

I want to begin by saying that passive voice is not, in any way, grammatically incorrect. In fact, it does have its uses — but that’s a topic for another day.

So, why are we told to avoid using passive voice? Well, there are a number of reasons.

To help us get a clearer idea of these issues, let’s take a look at our first example again.

In the sentence: The dog was walked

The three main issues with this sentence are:

  1. It often does not provide enough information
  2. Conveys less of a sense of action
  3. Slows the pace

These three issues are typical of sentences written in passive voice. So, you can see how this might cause larger storytelling and pacing problems in your novel.

In comparison, the active voice equivalent of this sentence reveals more information, such as the real subject of the sentence (Alfie). It also conveys more of a sense of action. As such, we as the reader have a complete picture of Alfie and the dog walking.

Now Let’s have some fun.

I’ve snuck a few passive voice sentences into this article. Can you spot them? If so, how would you rewrite them?

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