Liraz is an International SEO and Content Expert with over 13 years of experience.
While most writing advice says to avoid using the passive voice, that isn’t a universally agreed-upon rule.
If you’ve ever taken a creative writing course – even a low-level, basic one – chances are you have been told in no uncertain terms to avoid passive voice when writing. Chances are you’ve heard this in other writing scenarios as well – it’s become one of those widely accepted truisms. Everyone simply agrees that passive voice is bad form and active sentences is better – but I’ve never been sure that’s true.
Now, I work in translation and not as a professional writer – despite the obvious greatness of this blog. But since I do work in language translation I think I do have some insight into the question, and I’ve put some thought into it. And I don’t buy it: Passive form is no worse or better than an active voice sentence, and vice versa.
First, let’s make sure we all know what I mean. While it might seem obvious to people who work in the language in any capacity, some folks don’t.
A passive voice sentence can be defined as a sentence where the object of the verb comes first, and usually involves the use of the verb form was or were. For example: ‘The blog was being written by a tedious know-it-all.’ Active voice, on the other hand, puts the subject first, followed by the verb: ‘The tedious know it wrote the blog.’
As you can see, the distinction is a bit vague until it’s pointed out to you, and we all see examples every day of passive voice without noticing it at all.
Changing a passive sentence to an active voice involves identifying the subject performing the action and rephrasing the sentence accordingly. In the active voice, the subject comes before the verb, while in the passive voice, the subject receives the action and comes after the verb. Here’s an example to demonstrate the conversion:
Passive Voice: The cake was baked by Mary.
Active Voice: Mary baked the cake.
Practice makes perfect when transforming passive to active voice. By regularly applying this technique, writers can create clearer and more engaging sentences for their readers.
The theory goes that the passive voice is inferior in writing because it’s less direct and less forceful. In a sense this is correct – the Active voice puts the subject in the focal part of the sentence and celebrates the subject – the actor – whereas the Passive focuses on the object of the sentence – the thing being acted on. This can often be more appealing to a reader because it requires less thought and less parsing – Active voice tends to be more direct.
An additional advantage that a person with translation skills like myself appreciates is the fact that Active voice, on average, requires fewer words to tell the same thing. In that sense, I will admit that Passive sentences is less efficient.
But the passive form gets the job done just as well. If used wisely can convey precisely the mood the writer wishes. And it has one distinctive use: It allows you to say things without referring to the actor at all. For example: ‘The blog was written.’ Blog becomes the subject, and no reference to the actor is made – a nifty writing trick only possible with Passive voice.
The debate over passive versus active voice in writing is not a matter of absolute right or wrong. Both have their merits and can be effectively used depending on the context and writer’s intent. While active voice offers directness and conciseness, passive voice shines in specific situations where emphasis on the action or receiver is more appropriate. As writers, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each allows us to skillfully wield these tools to convey our messages with clarity and impact. In doing so it enhances the richness and diversity of our written expression.