Bill Bennett

Bill Bennett

Make the active voice your first choice

The active voice is usually better than the passive voice because it is direct. This makes it easier to understand and unambiguous. With the active voice a subject does something to an object: Andy kicked the ball.

In the passive voice the object is acted on by the subject: The ball was kicked by Andy.

An active voice makes for tighter writing and easier reading. It is more personal and less formal.

Efficient writing The passive sentence used six words while the active sentence needed only four. It has simpler grammar. Active sentences are economic and clear.

Active voice phrases are easier to understand because they involve fewer stages. Think of it as fewer mental hoops to jump through. This becomes important in more complex sentences and longer pieces of text.

While active voice sentences are also easier to write, you might not always find this in practice. The good news is that writing active sentences helps organise your own thoughts. That way you’ll write clearer.

Confident words Sentences written in the active voice read as if the writer is confident about the facts. In contrast, phrases and sentences written in the passive voice seem tentative or uncertain.

Bureaucrats and corporate managers often like hiding behind the passive voice’s ambiguities. Academics like to use it.

For example, in the phrase; “the claims have been analysed”, it isn’t clear who did the analysis. On the other hand; “We analysed the claims” is definite.

It gets worse when the writer resorts to using the word ‘it’ instead of ‘I’ or ‘we’: In the sentence “It was decided no claims would be payable” the author is deliberately hiding behind the ‘it’ implying that authority comes from on high and not identifying the person who did the deciding.

There are times when you need to use the passive voice. That’s another post