Passive Voice

Posted: March 31st, 2014, 9:31 am   By: erin.hempfling

“You know, this is the ’80s, Mr. Miyagi. You can’t be so damn passive!”—Ralph Macchio, with words of advice that transcend a mere decade.


This week, the passive voice is explored by us.

Nobody likes passivity, right? Just take a look around. Our movies celebrate the bellicose brute over the mousy milquetoast. We use “loser” as a derogatory term. We turn “victims” into “survivors” because, darn it, nobody goes down without a fight here. Everyday is a Royal Rumble, and the passive person gets tossed right over the top rope. In the esprit de corps of our active world, writers should also avoid passive voice in favor of active voice.

Active Voice

Active voice is pretty straightforward: The subject of the sentence performs the action expressed by the verb. Consider the following examples.

  • Ex) Christopher Robinson poses with his underwhelming collection of twenty-dollar bills.
  • Ex) Grumpy ol’ Clarence decided to teach his upstart coworker a lesson.
  • Ex) Anchorage police will arrest Hostgator Dotcom’s tattoo artist.

Passive Voice

Passive voice does a switcheroo: The object of the verb moves to the subject position. Since the subject and object change places, the object becomes the focus of the sentence. The easiest way to identify passive voice is to examine the subject of the sentence. If it isn’t performing the action, you might have a passive construction. Other clues include the presence of “be” verbs or the word “by.” We see these indicators in the following passive sentences.

  • Ex) Child support does not get paid by Christopher.
  • Ex) The computer was thrown by Clarence.
  • Ex) Facial tattoos will have to be removed by frickin’ laser beams.

Be Active

Staying active isn’t just for Shaun T aficionados. As the “AP Stylebook” explains, writers should stick with active voice as much as possible. Although passive voice does not necessarily constitute a capital creative crime, it lacks the robust verbal pizzazz of active sentences.

Now the active voice can be used properly by you.