Moving Past the Passive

Usually, we want to avoid using Passive Voice. What is the Passive Voice in writing?

Basic sentences are constructed as follows: A subject takes action, perhaps upon an object. This construction is sometimes called Active Voice.

Example: James ate an ice cream cone.

James is the subject.

Ate is the action James performed.

The ice cream cone was the object of James’ eating.

When we use Passive Voice, we put the object where the subject should be. The formula to look for is a form of the verb “to be” followed by a past participle.

Example: The ice cream cone was eaten by James.

There are some things to remain aware of. First, be aware that not all sentences using a form of “to be” automatically are considered Passive Voice. In these situations it falls into a category of modal verbs that includes may, can, must and should.

Examples: Susie has to walk to school today.

Brian should be more careful.

Angela must finish writing her essay.


Common Misunderstandings about Passive Voice:

*My Grammar checker will tell me if I’ve used Passive Voice.

Sometimes this is true, but not always. Passive Voice isn’t a grammatical error. You should take the time to examine your work for these constructions to make certain you’re using Active Voice where you want to.

*In any statement using “I” first person, it’s impossible to use Passive Voice.

Afraid not. Example: I was hit by a reindeer.

*You should never use Passive Voice.

Passive Voice weakens your writing in many situations. There are some situations in which it is not only fine to use Passive Voice, but also preferable.


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