The Passive Voice Explained - Plus An Infographic

Writers mostly use the active voice. It brings our words to life with its immediacy and accountability. As authors, we are taking responsibility and not distancing ourselves from our words. We tend to bore readers when we use the passive voice.

Consider these two sentences:

  1. Our sentences are constructed in either the 'active' or the 'passive' voice. (Passive) 
  2. We construct our sentences in either the 'active' or the 'passive' voice. (Active)
The voice depends on where we place the emphasis. 
  1. If the emphasis is placed on the object of the action, the sentence is passive. 
  2. If the emphasis is placed on the subject, the sentence is active.

Writers Write Tip: We tell students that if you can add the words 'by zombies' (after the verb) at the end of the sentence, you are using the passive voice.

At Writers Write, we prefer to read fiction with a passive content of less than 5%, and non-fiction, including business writing, with a passive content of less than 10%. If we overuse the passive voice, our writing becomes less user-friendly and our readability statistics decrease. This defeats our purpose, which is to communicate.

Writers Write Tip: If you want to check your passive content, run your readability statistic tool in Word when you spell check your document.

However, we do use the passive voice:
  1. If we do not know who committed an action. Example: My dog was let out of the garden.
  2. If we are expressing a general truth. Example: Cats are born to be adored.
  3. If we want to be vague about who is responsible for an action. Politicians often use the passive voice. Example: Mistakes were made. Crimes were committed.
  4. If we want to emphasise the object of the action over the subject. Example: A cure for the common cold has been announced.
  5. If we are writing in a scientific genre. Example: The powder was dissolved in water. (However, more scientists are now using the active voice in their writing.)

P.S. You can add 'by zombies' to all these examples.

Happy writing - mostly in the active voice!

Source for Infographic -

If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme. If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

Amanda Patterson by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on Facebook,  Pinterest,  Google+Tumblr  and  Twitter

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. Active vs Passive
  2. Why You Need Strong Verbs When You Write
  3. The Four Most Important Things To Remember About Pacing
  4. Analysing Agatha – How to become the best-selling novelist of all time


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