As I was researching for this blog, I found myself thoroughly confused. So this blog post comes from a place of sincere learning – no preaching. I don’t have a literature degree. I have no formal writing courses other than the many conferences and lectures I have attended. I simply love telling stories and think I have a unique perspective and the heart to tell a pretty good story.
My lack of training does not mean I take any less pride in my craft. I want to express myself eloquently in a word frugal fashion that will capture my reader and wow those who are formally trained. The worst crime I could commit, would be to place a reader’s imagination into a fantastical place, only to rip them from that reality when they stumble into a passive sentence.
Through my research, I have discovered that passive sentences, although they may have their place from time to time, are generally longer, more confusing and indirect. Passive voice is not as clear and generally leaves the reader guessing.
I may not fully understand all the terminology, the formal names for the parts of a sentence like a rocket science equation to my untrained mind. However, after reading and researching, I am beginning to see the trend.
In a sentence there will be an actor (the person doing) and an action.
In a passive sentence, the action is told first and the actor (the person doing) after (or not at all).
In an active voice, the actor comes before the action.
Finally, there is a subject (the person or thing being acted upon).
In passive sentences, the subject comes first, while in active voice, the actor (the person doing) comes first.
I had to see examples myself. You can try reading the previous five sentences again and again really fast, but it will only put you to sleep. I promise, I tried it.
You need to see examples.
Passive sentence example…
“This blog was written in 2016.”
Subject = Blog Action = Written Actor = We are left to wonder who wrote it???
Now, let’s try an active voice…
“Donna wrote this blog in 2016.”
Actor = Donna action = wrote subject = blog
We may not have saved any words with this example, but at least we know who our actor is. To be sure your sentence is active, change it up so your actor (Donna – and be sure to name your actor) comes before the action (writing) and the subject (the blog) comes at the end.
Here are some questions to ask of your sentence…
Is there action going on in the sentence?
If so, what is at the front of the sentence? The person doing the action or the thing that is having the action done to it?
HINT – in a passive sentence the object will be at the front, the person doing will be at the end, usually connected ‘by’.
(passive) The book is being read by most of the class.
(the action is reading, the class is reading.. the book is the subject.)
(active) Most of the class is reading the book.
(passive) Results will be published in the next issue of the Journal.
(We don’t know who is publishing?)
(active) The researches will publish their results in the next issue of the Journal.
I hope this summary will help you in your writing life. I embarked on this blog adventure in order to recognize my own passive voice. I may not have all the answers, but this is a great first step.
One final, famous example…
The road was crossed by the chicken. This is passive.
The chicken crossed the road. Much more direct – active.
Thank you to the following sources.
http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/passive-voice/ UNC College of Arts and Sciences
http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/style-and-editing/passive-voice University of Toronto, Writing
Donna Judy Curtin
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