|Your Writing Has Been Polished
Managing the Passive Voice
|Unless you've been living on the moon, you probably know by now that the passive voice is considered (oops, there it is)** a bad idea in most writing. Here's why--and some exercises:
What is the passive voice?
The passive voice happens when you make the object of a sentence into the subject. For example, Marco kissed Susie becomes Susie was kissed by Marco.
Why avoid the passive voice?
1. It usually involves more words than you need. (See "The Art of Brevity" in the archives).
2. It suggests a lack of energy. Why? Because with the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is putting up with an action done to it.
Exercise: (Try this one before you read down to my suggested rewrites.)
The Neighborhood Clinic has been awarded the Red Cross Service Prize by the Smith Foundation.
# # # # #
Ready? You could say, "The foundation awarded the prize to the clinic."
Even better: "The Neighborhood Clinic earned (not received) the Red Cross Service Prize." The clinic becomes the subject of the sentence, and appears a lively actor in its community.
As Strunk & White put it many years ago, "Many a tame sentence . . . can be made** lively and emphatic by substituting . . .the active voice."
Try two more exercises:
Financial disaster was avoided by the Greenway Clinic when its director of accounting was replaced promptly.
When the museum's basement is flooded by Henry's Creek, pumps are turned on and most of the damage is contained by quick action.
**On the other hand, there is an exception to every rule. Sometimes the passive voice allows you to emphasize a particular subject--as when Strunk & White open their sentence with "Many a tame sentence . . ." as the subject.