Friday, March 11, 2011

What is Passive Voice?

You've heard the term, "be a defensive driver." Obviously, it means to always be on the lookout and avoid accidents before they happen.

In the writing world, we don't want to be defensive. Being defensive is weak! Instead, we want to be proactive. And so we use the following phrase: "avoid passive voice." But exactly what is passive voice?

There is a great handout on passive voice by The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I see passive voice all the time, and it really gets on my nerves. Here are some examples:

The cheese was eaten.
Fun was had by all.

Why was the road crossed by the chicken? (Example from handout)

Do you see something wrong with these sentences? They are grammatically "correct" but just lack some umph.

If you thought, "who ate the cheese?" or "who had fun?" or "why is the word 'chicken' where it is?" then you are onto something! Basically, the subject and action are a little sloppy. The sentence is telling us what happened, but no proactively. Kind of like when your kid does something wrong, and they try to downplay it.

"The vase was broken." vs "I broke the vase."

If you have a manuscript started, go through it and try to pick out any passive sentences. Once you have identified them, figure out how to make them stand out.

The door opened slowly. vs. Charlie slowly pushed the door open.

See how that small change makes a big difference? The sentence is more commanding and offers more imagry to the reader. They don't just see the door, they see a person acting on the door.

What do you think?

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