Writing Tips & Advice
When to Use Passive Voice
There is nothing technically wrong with using passive voice, but most editors will tell you to use it sparingly.
Times when it may be appropriate to use passive voice are when:
- You do not know who performed the action.
Example: The NO DUMPING sign had obviously been ignored.
- You want to hide the identity of the one who performed the action.
Example: Your performance was evaluated by three people.
- The person who performed the action is not important to the meaning of the sentence.
Example: Each spring, the town was infiltrated by thousands of college students.
- You want to emphasize the action rather than the one performing the action.
Example: After a long discussion, the amendment was ratified by the majority of members.
- You want to create an authoritative tone.
Example: Dogs are not allowed.
All sentences are essentially written in one of two voices: active or passive.
With active voice, the action is taken by the subject.
Example: The teacher handed out the instructions.
With passive voice, the subject receives the action.
Example: The instructions were handed out by the teacher.
When to Use Active Voice
In fiction, active voice is the better choice most of the time. Active voice...
- clearly identifies the action and who is performing that action.
- conveys energy and directness that passive voice isn't capable of conveying.
- allows readers to experience what the character is experiencing right along with them.
- usually results in sentences that are less wordy.
- is more apt to keep readers turning the pages.
Which sentence do you think garners more attention?
This competition must be won by Hans to qualify for the nationals. (passive)How about this one?
Hans must win this competition to qualify for the nationals. (active)
The crackers that had fallen to the ground were eaten by the baby.
The baby ate the crackers that had fallen to the ground.
See the difference?
- Receive periodic notifications when additional subjects are added to
the writer’s advice sections (about one per quarter).
- Learn of my future book releases (about one per year).
- Let me know if you would like to see additional topics included on
this website, and if I use your suggestion, receive a complimentary
copy of one of my books (your choice).