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Active vs. Passive Voice

Most writers know to avoid the passive voice, but not all writers recognize when they're being passive. True passive voice generally sounds strange in the ear, but there are other ways to be passive in your writing.

A sentence constructed in the active voice will use 'subect-verb-object' construction, as in the following:

I cooked dinner.

A sentence constructed in the passive voice will use the opposite, an 'object-verb-subject' construction, as in the following:

Dinner was cooked by me.

If you think the second sentence sounds awkward, you're right. Publishers would take one look at that and toss your manuscript in the recycling bin. Active voice makes it clear who is doing what. In an active sentence, the person that is acting is the subject. Passive sentences obscure or omit the sentence subject.

Use passive voice only when the sentence object is more important than the subject. The active voice is generally easier to read.

This brings us to the next lesson. Notice the word "was" in the second example sentence above. Words like this are a general indicator of passive verbiage; this will make your sentence less dynamic, less action-packed. Take the following example:

Tony was standing in the middle of the crowd and shouting.

It seems bloated, wordy, and not very visual, right? Well, what happens when we clean out the passive verbiage?

Tony stood in the middle of the crowd and shouted.
Tony stood in the middle of the crowd, shouting.

Same verbs, but those read clearer and seem more exciting. When editing your work, mark out all instances of using 'to be' verbs such as was, had, been, and were, and try to reword as many as you can in a more active way. Sometimes it's impossible, but more often that not you'll find a clearer, more exciting story under all that passivity.