Recently I have noticed an increase in passive voice, and many people don’t know how to correct it. Passive voice is not grammatically wrong, but you usually want to avoid using it because the quality and clarity of your writing may suffer. This is especially important in articles and other nonfiction writing when every word matters.
What the heck is passive voice? Passive voice is an indirect way of writing something. Once you learn the differences and how to spot it, you can easily edit sentences into active voice.
Common terms used in this post:
Subject = Performs the verb and usually comes at the beginning of the sentence
Verb = the action of a sentence
Object = the thing the verb was done to, often at the end of a sentence
How to spot passive sentences:
The subject of the sentence becomes the object, or it is dropped entirely.
The object becomes the subject.
There is often a ‘to-be’ verb or the prepositions ‘of’ or ‘by’.
1. The population of the city grew by more than 20 percent this year.
2. The award was won by the school system.
3. Rodgers has been throwing the ball at his coach.
4. The store was not open.
Now, look at the above sentences and ask, “how can I rewrite that in a more straightforward way?” This rewrite may change passive to active. Many times if you switch the current subject and object in the sentence, the sentence will be active (example 2). Also, making the subject possessive may work (example 1), and if you are ambitious, try to replace two or three words with one (examples 3, 4).
Here are the rewrites:
1. The city’s population grew by more than 20 percent this year.
2. The school system won the award.
3. Rodgers threw the ball at his coach.
4. The store was closed.
If you’d like to practice editing into active voice, try these tests. They will even grade them! 🙂