As all writers know, common grammatical errors can weasel into anyone’s content.
The wording is something that pops up regularly in prose that’s not necessarily incorrect. However, it can make writing confusing and overcrowded with unnecessary words.
Passive voice is when the subject of a sentence is the thing or person upon which an action is performed; the subject receives the action. Sentences that use “by” are often written in the passive voice.
As an example, “The race was won by Kathy.”
By using this clause as a tool, we can think about passive voice more simply. In this sample, the emphasis is not placed on the woman who won the race. Instead, the focus is the race itself, which just happened to be won by Kathy. It does not preference the most important component of the sentence–Kathy–and it uses an excessive amount of words to convey a brief piece of information.
“So, how do I fix the problem?” If that is what you might be thinking, keep reading. It’s easy. By using active voice, you can inverse passive voice. Rather than focusing on the (in this case) person to whom the action has happened, sentences in the active voice emphasize the agent who performed the action. In very simple terms, by removing the “by” and move the second part of the sentence to the beginning. The focus moves back to the important component of the sentence–Kathy.
As an example, “Genevieve won the race.”
Passive voice can lead writing to become ambiguous and too long. By using the active voice, these problems are mitigated.
Use Passive Voice Sparingly
Passive Voice is warranted in many cases, just know the best times to use the wording. Generally, two instances in which you might wish to employ the passive voice. The first includes being discreet. For example, you must send an email that must address a recent incident with a coworker. If you wish to leave out the people involved in the incident, writing passively can focus attention on the snafu, rather than those in the wrong.
For example, “Yesterday, a particularly long lunch was taken in our office.”
The insinuation that the misbehavior was undertaken by people in the office, but the focus is on the ‘particularly long lunch’.
Another instance is if you wish to target the event or experience more than who or what performed it.
As an example, “The newspaper was bought out.”
In this case, the key focus remained on the newspaper that was sold, not who bought it. Indeed, the content will be a punchy, concise sentence that will catch a reader’s attention.
While using an active voice is better in most cases, passive voice has a highly effective niche. However, remember in general the active voice is a better tool to make your writing concise, simple, and clear.
If ever you’re in doubt about which voice is best for your writing, try reading aloud. A passive voice will be wordy, or confusing. ProWritingAid is also a great tool to help rewrite the sentence more efficiently.