Writing Tip: Use Active Voice…Most Of The Time

Thank you to everyone who read, liked and/or are following my blog since the first posting I did entitled, Writing Tip: When To Use Passive Voice. Due to the popularity of that post, I can only assume that I am not the only one who finds that the PV slips into our writing Ninja like, far more often than most of us would like and, also, that most of you have read Stephen King’s On Writing, where he states emphatically, “I hate the passive voice.”

So, to help us both with this issue, back by popular demand, here’s Active Voice Vs. Passive Voice II. Or, another source with a slightly different way of explaining it, if you’d rather.

Use Active Voice…Most Of The Time

When the verb is in the AV (Active Voice), the subject of the sentence is also the doer of the action.

The sentence “John picked up the bag” is in the active voice because the subject, John, is also the thing or person doing the action of “picking up.”

The sentence “The bag was picked up by John” is in the passive voice because the subject of the sentence, bag, is the passive receiver of the action.

Generally the AV makes for more interesting reading, and it is the AV that you should cultivate as your normal writing habit. The AV strikes more directly at the thought you want to express, it is generally shorter, and it holds the reader closer to what you write because it creates a stronger sense that “something is happening.”

Listen to how the following PV (Passive Voice) sentences are improved when they are turned into the AV.

Passive: Dutch drawings and prints are what this book is about.

Active: This book is about Dutch drawings and prints.

Passive: The light bulb was crewed in crookedly by the electrical engineer.

Active: The electrical engineer screwed in the light bulb crookedly.

Try to use the AV. But realize that there are times when you will need to use the passive. If the object of the action is the important thing, then you will want to emphasize it by mentioning it first. When that’s the case, you will use the PV.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to tell the reader about some strange things that happened to your car. In the AV it would look like this:

Three strong women turned my car upside down on Tuesday. Vandals painted my car yellow and turquoise on Wednesday. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched my car into orbit around the moon on Thursday.

The example shown above is not wrong, but is sounds choppy. To give the story a flow, you would want to use the PV, keeping the emphasis on your car.

On Tuesday my car was turned upside down by three strong women. On Wednesday my car was painted yellow and turquoise by vandals. On Thursday my car was launched into orbit around the moon by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

In the PV, the car is given the emphasis, and the story about what happened to it has a flow and rhythm lacking in the first example.

Taken from “100 Ways To Improve Your Writing” by Gary Provost ISBN 978-0-451-62721-6

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