Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Quit being passive: A grammar tip

If you reduce your use of the passive voice, your writing will become more powerful. That's something I often tell my writing students.

If you can't recognize the passive voice, check out the passive voice resources highlighted by Barbara Feldman in "Surfing the Net with Kids" (Nov. 27, 2009). Don't be put off by the "Kids" in Feldman's column title. She's referring you to websites appropriate for adults.

According to the Guide to Grammar and Writing's "The Passive Voice" page

In the active voice, the subject and verb relationship is straightforward: the subject is a be-er or a do-er and the verb moves the sentence along. In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is neither a do-er or a be-er, but is acted upon by some other agent or by something unnamed (The new policy was approved).
In my opinion, the active voice has a couple of advantages compared to the passive voice
  • It shortens sentences
  • It clarifies the relationship between cause and effect
If you're not sure you can recognize the passive voice, take the Guide to Grammar and Writing's passive voice quiz, "Exercise in Revising Passive Constructions." 

Some of the other resources mentioned by Feldman include
Susan B. Weiner, CFA
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Copyright 2009 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved


  1. Susan,

    One byproduct of using Twitter semi-prolifically is losing passive voice in written messages. In 140 characters, there just isn't any room for "was," "had been," or any of those other do-nothing verbs.

  2. Good point, Bill! Yesterday's New York Times had an interesting book review that made a related point about the impact of electronic communications on language. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/01/books/01book.html?scp=2&sq=grammar&st=cse


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