Passive Voice – How to Spot, Fix and Eliminate It

If you really need to hold your readers` interest from the first sentence to the last, avoid using passive voice.  Instead, master writing skills in the ‘active voice.’ Though it is not hard to stick to active voice throughout your writing, but sometimes you can make a mistake of slotting this voice in your work.

the passive voice

If you leave passive voice issue unchecked in your work, it may slaughter your readers` interest more than a typographical error. Most readers may think you are boring when they encounter too much of passive voice in your writing.

This article will help you understand what the passive voice is, how to spot it, and how you can revise your writing for a greater clarity.  This way, you will be able to make informed decisions as you write.

How to spot passive voice in your writing

To spot this voice in your writing, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you insert the phrase “by so- and-so” after the verb in your sentence? If yes, will the sentence make sense? If the answer is still yes, then you have passive speech. For example, this article was written (by Anne).

 

  • Is there a form of the verb “to be” in your sentences? Remember, it is next to impossible to create passive voice unless you use the verb “to be”. Examples of verb “to be” include: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

For example,

This article was written by Anne.

The bills were passed by the parliament and signed by the president.

If you have such verbs in your sentences, that`s passive voice.

Is the subject doing the action in your sentences? Or is the subject lying passively as an outside agent “does” the action to the subject in your sentences? You need to identify the subject and the verb for you to answer those questions clearly.If the subject is not doing the action, then you have passive voice.

If the subject is not doing the action, then you have passive form.

How to fix, and eliminate passive voice use in your writing

passive voice

You can fix passive voice use in your writing easily. Simply read the sentences keenly to distinguish subject, verb and object.

For example, this article was written by Anne. In this sentence, Anne is the subject (doer).  Article is the object (receiving the action) and “written” is the action.

Then rewrite your sentences, making sure that the subject comes before the action.

For example, Anne wrote this article.

In this sentence, the subject “Anne” comes before the action or verb “wrote”. Also, the subject “Anne” is doing the action or verb “wrote”.  Moreover, you cannot insert the phrase “by so-and-so” in this sentence and make sense at the same time. Note that there is no form of the verb “to be” in this sentence. This is ACTIVE VOICE!

Obliviously, there are exceptions!

Recall my words at the beginning of the article. I said, “…if you leave the passive issue unchecked…” I didn`t say passive voice should never be used in writing.

passive voice

Sometimes I use the passive form especially in cases where it sounds more memorable. For example, I used a passive in my advice to freelancers when I said:

“If you are working on a project for your client, work as the project was being worked on for you.”

In such a situation, the passive speech adds weight to the sentence. Always be careful when using passive voice. I would recommend that you use active voice in writing. Don’t use passive voice unless you have to.

Summary of strategies                        

Spot passive voice

  • Check for the passive voice use: ‘to be’ plus a participle ( for example, eggs to be supplied)
  • If you cannot spot any passive voice use in your writing, move on.
  • Pay attention to your sentence structure. Does it describe an action? Where is the actor? (in the grammatical subject position)

Evaluate

  • Is the subject (the doer) indicated?
  • Is it important to know who is responsible for the action?
  • Will readers require you to clarify sentences because of issues related to passive voice?

Revise

Read through your text. If you want your sentence to appear clearer, use active voice. Any sentence in passive voice, tweak it to make the subject and actor the same. Ensure that the actor comes before a verb. Quite simple!

3 thoughts on “Passive Voice – How to Spot, Fix and Eliminate It

  1. Well-versed!!! Indeed, I suffered a great deal before reading the article. I am impressed and challenged to explore such ideas further.

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