The passive voice is often given a bad rap in the writing community. While it has its place, understanding when and how to use it can elevate your writing to the next level.
1. What is Passive Voice?
A sentence is in passive voice when the subject is acted upon by the verb, rather than performing the action.
- Passive: The book was read by Mary.
Active: Mary read the book.
- Passive: The cake was eaten by the kids.
Active: The kids ate the cake.
2. Why is Passive Voice Criticized?
While passive voice isn’t grammatically wrong, it can make your writing seem indirect, less dynamic, or less clear. Active voice often feels more direct and engaging.
3. When to Use Passive Voice:
Despite its criticisms, passive voice has its purposes:
- Emphasizing the Action, Not the Actor: If the action is more important than who did it.
Example: The ancient relics were stolen (it doesn’t matter by whom).
- Being Diplomatic or Indirect: In formal or sensitive situations.
Example: Mistakes were made (without pointing fingers).
- When the Actor is Unknown or Irrelevant:
Example: The building was vandalized.
4. Tips to Avoid Unintentional Passive Voice:
- Identify the Subject: Ensure the subject of your sentence is the one performing the action.
- Use Strong Verbs: Passive voice often comes with weaker verbs. Energize your sentences with direct action verbs.
- Proofread with Intent: When reviewing your writing, specifically look for passive constructions and assess if they can be revised.
- Utilize Writing Tools: Many writing software and tools can highlight passive sentences, helping you be more aware.
5. Balancing Passive and Active Voice:
While it’s often advised to use active voice for clarity and engagement, passive voice has its place. It’s about balance. Effective writers use passive voice intentionally, not accidentally.
By understanding passive voice and its impact, you can make informed decisions in your writing. While active voice brings vigor and directness, passive voice can add nuance and emphasis where needed. The key is being aware and making conscious choices.