Some students are addicted to passive voice. Welcome to the meeting of the Passive
Voice-aholics Anonymous. Say hello to our new visitor Jack:
“Hello! My name is Jack and I am fond of writing in passive voice, because:
- Passive voice easily increases the word count of my papers. Compare for instance: Jack ate a cake. (Active voice – 4 words) and The cake was eaten by Jack. (Passive voice – 6 words.)
- It makes my papers sound more complicated and I think that teachers like it.
- Passive voice helps me hide the doer of the action. (The cup was broken.)”
All together: “Hello, Jack!”
Do any of these reasons sound familiar to you? Remember that all of them are wrong, and your teachers will easily detect these dirty tricks at first glance.
Let’s cure this unhealthy devotion to passive voice and discover the top reasons and best strategies for writing in active voice, just a few lines below.
Why Is Writing in Active Voice Better?
Let’s compare a few sentences in active vs. passive voice:
|Mr. Smith was driving a car.||The car was being driven by Mr. Smith.|
|A student wrote an essay.||The essay was written by a student.|
|Jack did not send a message.||The message was not sent by Jack.|
As you can see, writing in active voice is more effective, because the sentences become
- clearer – everyone can see who does what;
- more economical – fewer words are needed for conveying the same meaning.
Best Strategies for Using Active Voice
How to find passive voice in your papers and convert it to active voice?
- Find the by-constructions (E.g. The window was broken by Sam. – Sam broke the window.)
- Find the verbs “be”, which are followed by a Participle II (E.g. The book was lost. – I lost the book.)
- Find the expletive phrases, such as it is, there is, there are etc. (It was her sincere smile that produced a good impression on me. – Her sincere smile produced a good impression on me.)
However, when looking for the passive voice, you should avoid these common pitfalls:
- The preposition ‘by’ does not necessarily indicate the doer of the action. (We were passing by a Chinese restaurant.)
- The verb “be” is not always used as part of passive constructions. (The journey was dangerous.)
Furthermore, there are a number of intransitive verbs, which cannot be used in passive voice because they are never used with an object. There are only a few of them: become, belong, consist of, depend, exist, fall, happen, sleep, swim, wait etc.
When Should I Use Passive Voice?
The next question to answer is whether you should always use active voice in writing. Are there any exceptions when passive voice is preferable? Yes, there are. These are the main exceptions:
- When you need to emphasize the action rather than the doer (Ice has been discovered on the surface of Mars.)
- When you want to be tactful and hide the doer of the action (Ann was betrayed.)
- When you do not know the doer. (An effective solution to the problem has not been found.)
So, write in active voice, and you will be able to capture readers’ attention, make your arguments more persuasive and say more with fewer words. Getting rid of the addiction to passive voice is easy, and using this quick guide you will achieve amazing results. Good luck!