Eliminating the Passive Voice

What’s wrong with the passive voice, anyway? Wait. What is the passive voice?

Voice is determined by whether or not the subject performs the action named by the verb. When the subject of the sentence acts, the sentence is in the active voice. When the subject of the sentence is acted upon, the sentence is in the passive voice.

Active: Brunhilda baked the delicious cake.

Passive: The delicious cake was baked by Brunhilda.

You may be saying: “These sentences say the same thing! What’s the difference?” The difference is  that we’re drawn to pay attention to the subject of the sentence–Brunhilda, or the delicious cake–and sometimes Brunhilda is a lot more important than the cake, no matter how delicious it is. The other difference? Elegance. Active sentences are shorter, cleaner, are generally more pleasant to read. Another difference? Active sentences identify responsibility. Politically speaking, they identify key actors.

Last August, in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown was killed.

Grammatically speaking, the above sentence is correct. Politically speaking, it fails us.

In August 2014, Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown.

Notice, below, how the passive voice is employed in newspaper headlines:

Passive Voice


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