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Writing Pitfalls #1: Passive Versus Active Voice

For the next six weeks we will be posting content that has been derived from our years of experience proofreading and editing work for our clients. Specifically, we will explore some of the most common pitfalls that we encounter in the work that we process. The first pitfall that we see often is this—passive versus active voice.

Now, many English speakers will have no idea what this means. Our generation has been educated in English literature, but not English grammar. It was not until I studied French and then eventually Greek that I even knew that a sentence had a subject, a verb, and an object. This knowledge revolutionized the way I wrote and understood English.

Passive or Active Voice?

The voice of a sentence always refers to the function of the verb. Active voice means that the subject of the sentence is doing the action (the verb) to the object of the sentence. Consider the following sentence written in active voice:

Fred ate a hamburger.

The verb in this sentence is ate, and Fred is the subject because he is that one that ate. The hamburger is the object of the sentence because the verb action was done to it—the hamburger was eaten.

Passive Voice

Passive voice means that the object of the sentence is doing the action (the verb) to the subject of the sentence. Consider the following sentence written in passive voice:

A hamburger was eaten by Fred.

The verb in this sentence is the same, but hamburger is now the subject and Fred is the object. The object of the sentence (Fred) did the action to the subject of the sentence (hamburger).

Formal writing almost always uses active voice because it most clearly portrays what is taking place. Active voice uses less words, is less vague, and is easier to understand than passive voice, especially when sentences become more complex. Yet, for some reason, passive voice is used all the time by students—just like I did here. In other words, students use passive voice a lot, and The Paper Editing Service changes sentences from passive to active voice all the time.

When you write your papers this semester, do us all a favor and use active—not passive—voice.

If you have more questions about active versus passive voice, feel free to interact with us on our Facebook page. If you would like to study more about this topic and other ways to improve your writing skills, please contact us for information about our forthcoming online courses and webinars.

See you again next week!

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