36 Avoiding Passive Voice

What’s wrong with this sentence: The ball was hit by Joe? The ball, in this case, is not doing anything. John is the person performing the action of hitting the ball. If it wasn’t for John, the ball would have reached the catcher’s mitt, and John might have struck out. Fortunately for him and his team, he swung and hit the ball.

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The ball was hit by Joe is an example of passive voice. The subject, in passive-voice structures, is not performing the action of the verb. In this case, was hit is the verb, but Joe, the person performing the action, has been relegated to the object of the sentence. The subject and verb are a team and should almost always work together: John hit the ball.

Look at the following examples and think about why active voice is better than passive voice:

His neighbor stole the boat.

The boat was stolen by his neighbor.

In this case, passive voice is too wordy; why say something in seven words when you can say it in five?

The oldest child was interviewed by me and my partner.

My partner and I interviewed the oldest child.

Although passive voice in this example is also wordy, it also lacks emphasis. The reader loses identity with the most important part of a sentence in the passive voice: the subject.

Try improving the following sentences by changing them to active voice. This is a practice. You do not need to submit your answers, but if you have any questions, ask.

At every performance of the symphony, the music was enjoyed by me more.

A consultation meeting was called.

The time of arrival is considered important.

The day I discovered corrupt politics will never be forgotten by me.

It was stated that the client had stopped working.

We will discuss, in an upcoming module, the possibility of using passive voice. But for now, avoid it. Simply make sure your subject is performing the action of the verb (I know, that sounds like an English teacher talking, but you do need to know subjects and verbs.)

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