We all know passive voice should be used sparingly if we don’t want to send our reader to sleep. The passive voice often makes sentences unnecessarily wordy, and can distance the reader from the action.
Here is a real quick and easy way to eliminate the passive voice.
Let’s look at a passive example:
The cat was chased by the dog.
There are 3 parts to the sentence:
- Who or what is performing the action? > the dog.
- What is the action? This is the verb (or doing word). > was chased
- Who or what is being acted upon. > the cat
How to eliminate the passive voice? Alway put who or what is performing the action at the start of the sentence.
The cat was chased by the dog…becomes…The dog chased the cat.
The resulting sentence is shorter and clearer.
- The easiest way to spot this is to search for passive forms of the verb ‘to be’
(is, are, am, was, were, has been, have been, will be, will have been, being)
- and then look for the past participle
(usually, but not always, verbs with ‘ed’ at the end).
In my example the action part of the sentence – was chased – indicated a passive voice.
- I tend to mostly find: is, are, am, and will be/ will have been in dialog so I focus on searching for: was, were, has been, have been, being.
- Not every sentence needs fixing or has something to fix. For example Tim is a great painter is not passive, nor does it need fixing. (Passive Voice Myths)
- Sometimes you want to be passive. For example if you want to empahsise the thing being acted upon, or the actor (doing the action) is unimportant or unknown.
- If you use the passive voice – know you are using it and why.