Daily, we use passive voice all of the time. We speak in passive voice. We write in passive voice. Sometimes there is simply no other way to write it other than in passive voice. Still, understanding the differences and determining how we can make shifts in our voice to strengthen our writing is always important.
Let’s start first with some definitions. I am going to go to my favorite grammar resource, A WRITER’S REFERENCE by Diana Hacker. Honestly, if you want the ultimate guide to everything grammar, this is the place to go to. Although the material deals heavily with an academic writing style, the strategies are still the same. By the way, I am using the 6th edition today simply because my current 7th edition copy is not with me.
According to Hacker, “In the active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action; in passive voice, the subject receives the action” (151). So what does this really mean?
In simple terms active and passive voice comes down to the structure of the sentence. For example, we can talk about Nora Roberts and her writing. In active voice, the sentence would look something like this:
But why do we tend to focus more on using active voice instead of passive voice? The idea stems from the intensity of the idea. With active voice, the idea is expressed more energetically than in passive voice simply because using the helping verbs (often the form of be) tends to weaken the point. Along the same lines, by moving the main idea further back into the sentence, it becomes an idea that, grammatically, could be eliminated from the sentence and it still will make sense.
The other reason we will want to look to using more of an active voice simply revolves around the idea of word choice. This is your chance, as a writer, to find those “killer” verbs that have a stronger connotation that the simple verbs you would have used with the helping verbs and likely a stack of adverbs. For example.