The Easy Way to Detect Passive Voice

The Easy Way to Detect Passive Voice

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Passive voice weakens clarity. The difference between active and passive voice is the difference between things happening to a character and the character making things happen. You should write in active voice with only a few exceptions. What does this mean? Is there an easy way to detect passive voice?

Examples

First, some examples of active and passive voice.

Active: “The cook chopped the mushrooms.”
Passive: “The mushrooms were chopped by the cook.”

In the active voice, the subject is doing something or being something.

In the passive voice, the subject is being acted upon or having something done to them.

A longer example might help. Wally can’t get the internet to come up and destroys his computer system.

First, in passive voice.

“The internet wasn’t coming up for Wally. None of his links would load. The three hole punch was in his hand before he could think clearly. The speakers went flying. The keyboard got smashed and several letters flew off. The monitor cracked as the end of the punch hit it dead center.”

Now, in active voice.

“Wally couldn’t get the internet working. He clicked links that didn’t load. He had the three hole punch in his hand before he could think clearly. Wally smashed the speakers off the desk. He smashed the keyboard and letters went flying. He smashed the end of the punch into the monitor and cracked the screen.”

Mixed Active and Passive

Beware of mixing active and passive in the same sentence.

“Jim picked up the laundry and plans were made for the day.” The second part is passive and needs to be re-written. “Jim picked up the laundry and made plans for the day.”

When is Passive Voice Okay?

Passive is okay when what is acted upon is more important. “The warehouse was burned down sometime shortly after midnight.”

Passive is okay when the actor is unimportant. “The tidal bore can be seen at 8am and 8pm.”

Passive is also okay in technical and scientific papers where the person doing the acting is not mentioned. “The test was given to 452 subjects. Non-lethal doses of cyanide were injected in half the subjects. Sugar water was injected in the other half.”

Passive voice is also useful when an object becomes a subject. “The gamers decided to go with the SWAT team format for their new game design. The SWAT team concept had been written by Kyoshi.”

The take-away from this is to be sure the subject of a sentence is the one taking action rather than receiving it and you will easily detect passive voice.


Article by Ivan Izo.

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