JS Tip 296: Active and Passive Voice, Part I

Tips from Jefferson Smith Training and Consulting

** From the Writing Workshops: Active and Passive Voice, Part I

We explored this topic a while ago (1954 or so). We’ve had recent inquiries, so we’ll explore the topic again—in a series of tips.

Understanding Active and Passive Voice

Sometimes, when you run your spelling and grammar checks, you’ll get a warning screen that says, “This sentence may be in passive voice.”


And you’ll say, “What the heck is passive voice?”

“Voice” relates to who or what is doing the action of a sentence. (Not all sentences involve action: “The wagon was red,” for example, is information.)

Active Voice. If the subject does the action, the sentence is in “active voice”: “Chris wrote the report.” Notice how the subject, Chris, is doing the action, the writing.

Passive Voice. If the subject receives the action, the sentence is in “passive voice”: “The report was written by Chris.” Notice how the subject, the report, is receiving the action; it’s being written.

Use active voice as your standard. It’s concise, conversational, and direct.

A Challenge. Identify a well-known quotation or passage in passive voice. Bet you can’t find one. Glory, laud, and honor to whoever can.

In next week’s tip, we’ll explore three warning flags to help you identify passive voice.

This is fun.

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