Sunday, November 11, 2012

Active Voice vs Passive Voice

by Vivian Zabel  

          The beat goes on: the discussion between using active and passive voice continues. First, let me say that passive voice is sometimes needed, but seldom. The use of passive voice creates weak writing, and we want strong, tight, interesting writing -- at least most readers do.

          Now, let's begin with active voice. In an active sentence, the subject does the action. A straightforward example follows: "Steve loves Amy." Steve is the subject, and he does the action: He loves Amy, the object of the sentence. Also active voice means a writer uses action verbs, not state of being verbs even as helping verbs, and active voice means an author doesn't use perfect tense (had, have, or has used as helping verbs). 

          Yes, some people believe using state of being verbs as helping verbs is still active voice, and in a way, that may be true. However, the writing is weaker. For example, the sentence "He is shooting baskets every day" is weaker than "He shoots baskets every day."

           So, what is passive voice? In passive voice, the subject of the sentence does not do anything. The action, if any, is done to it. Example, The ball was hit by the boy. How to make that sentence active voice? The boy hit the ball. 

          Of course I've simplified the difference between active and passive voice, hoping I could help writers get a handle on what each is. Writing in passive voice is easier and faster, perhaps lazy writing. If we want to be "good" writers, we need to work to make our writing the best it can be, not just the fastest and easiest it can be.

          As I stated above, passive voice is sometimes -- sometimes meaning not often at all -- needed and appropriate to use. However, if we want strong interesting writing, we will avoid it most of the time. Active voice creates more interesting writing, interesting to the reader.

          If you are a writer or editor or both, read and study until you recognize the difference between active voice and passive voice. The first step for correcting anything is to recognizing the problem or situation. The next step is to know how to correct passive voice to active voice. Usually, the revision requires rewriting the sentence or sentences so that strong action verbs are used and the subject does the acting.

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