Using The Active Voice

Most writers know that writing in the active voice is preferrable to passive.  In fact, it can make the difference between writing like an amateur and a professional.  Today, I’m going to give a very brief rundown about passive versus active and tips on how to ensure your writing stays in the active voice.

Constructing sentences in the active voice, means that the subject of the sentence is performing the “act.”  Keep this in mind, because a quick way to ensure the writing is active, will then be to identify who is performing the act.  These are all active:

  • Billy threw the football
  • Mary ate the ham sandwich
  • You made too much noise

The passive voice means, the subject is passive or being acted upon.

  • The football was thrown by Billy
  • The ham sandwich was eaten by Mary
  • Too much noise was made by you

Doesn’t the latter, the active voice, sound a million times better?  Problems with the passive voice are many: they’re lacking energy, directness, clarity, and can often seem confusing.  Sentences in the active voice also cut out unnecessary words making them less wordy.

One tip for scouring your writing of the active voice is to look for the word “was” or “by.”  Take these examples of where those words are used in passive sentences:

  • The novel was written by me.
  • That genre was most often written by men in the fifties.
  • All of the right answers were given by her.
  • Sarah’s heart problem was regretted.

Every writer should be conscious of active versus passive in their own writing.  But don’t panic, the passive can be easily fixed.  I recommend trying, of course to always use passive voice, but during the writing process, don’t let yourself get too hung up on this or you’ll get yourself into trouble by meandering over sentences and what’s active or not, when you should just be writing and focused on getting on those wonderful ideas and dialogue, running though your head, out.  So instead, be conscious of it, but wait until the editing phase to pour over your writing to identify any mishaps (passive voice), then fix them.  Using two of the passive examples from above, here is how you can very easily rework them to be active.

  • I wrote the novel
  • She gave all the right answers.

Hope this helps!






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