Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Passive voice is where the true subject of a sentence trails towards the end and is acted upon. It does NOT do the action. It's the bystander at a game or a patron waiting for a server to take their order. Or in the case below, it's the dog letting the water act upon him.

(noun) (verb clause) by (noun) ~ subject starting the thought but allowing the following verb to stimulate or move a noun (possible subject) instead.

Passive ~ Oasis for YA was asked by the passive subject (noun) to study the topic of further.
Active ~ The passive subject (noun) asked Oasis for YA to study the topic of further.

The easiest way to switch from passive to active voice is to keep the (noun) (verb) construction intact and negate the ending by (noun).

Passive ~ "The speaker is interrupted by the students."
Active ~ "The students interrupt the speaker."

Passive ~ The title, approximate word count, and a one paragraph description of your manuscript are expected in a query letter by most agents.
Active ~ "Most agents expect the title, approximate word count, and a one paragraph description in a query letter."

Passive ~ "The conversation was soured by the crass remarks of the gossip queens."
Active ~ "The gossip queens soured the conversation with their crass remarks."

In each of these examples, I've italicized where the structure went passive and bold where to move it, making the sentence active. Another word to watch out for is the word was. Using was does not necessarily make a sentence passive (I was skating on the ice...) ACTIVE, where (Jake's hockey stick was being used by Tom.) PASSIVE. It's just a word to make note of when checking and editing your writing.

Cleaning up passive construction can breath new life and 'voice' into your writing. This isn't saying that all passive construction should be avoid. Just used in moderation.

Next time I'm up for Wednesday, we'll delve a little deeper and look at Active Voice itself.

Take a portion of your current manuscript, short story, or article and check it for passive voice. See how many times you use it and try changing a few to active voice. Can you spot passive voice with ease?


  1. I love that pic!! I spend an entire round of revisions on picking out passive from active. It has a way of sneaking into my work... I wonder why that is... why we naturally want to write in passive tense???

  2. I will try this. I can see it in your examples, but we will see how well I do in my own work.

  3. PK - great way to word it. It DOES seem to sneak into our work. If we make ourselves more sensitive to it, we'll be able to see it more easily.

  4. Love the picture!

    I'm getting very good at spotting the passive writing in my stuff. I've trained my eye for it. :D

    I'm with PK. If with love action so much, why do we tend to write in passive?

  5. Great post. I'm going through and looking for the "was..." in my ms which is a good sign of the passive voice. Thanks for reminding me that I'm on the right track.

  6. such, such great points, Sheri! Active voice is so much more... active! :D Although, I'd like to be that puppy right now... <3

  7. Cute woofie pic! Love it. :o) Yep, great points about passive and active voice. Using passive voice can weaken prose. (Although sometimes it's nice to get a specific punch/word at the END of a sentence rather than at the beginning or middle.)

  8. Is it wrong that I envy the dog in your pic?

  9. The doggie pic was the best, but I'm so pleased you explained the passive VOICE correctly. I get irritated by people to say the using the -ing form of the verb is passive voice. Grrrrr!

    Thanks, Sheri.

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