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Grammar Granny        < Previous        Next >


Use Active Voice, Not Passive


Are your ideas weak? Are you a wussie? Do you lack confidence and energy, and therefore nobody should pay any attention to you?


No? Well, then, why do you write that way?


A common writing error is to write in a passive voice, rather than an active one. Passive writing is indirect, ambiguous and wordy, while active writing is vigorous, bold and concise.


Which is better:


"There is a whole lot of snow covering the ground" or "Snow blanketed the ground."


"He liked the painting which was done by me" or "He liked my painting."


"The whistle of a train could be heard by us" or "We heard a train whistle."


See how the active phrases - the second ones - are more direct, shorter and clearer?


Cure yourself of the habit of starting sentences with "There is" or "There are." That's a red flag of wordiness and passivity. Avoid the verb forms of "is" because they're just too passive and bland. Also watch out for expressions with the word "by," as in "It was left by me" instead of "I left it."


Last, watch yourself for wordiness; learn to cut to the chase. "The next thing we knew, our mistake became apparent, and the reason was, we had not done what we should have done." Instead, write: "We goofed."



By Susan Darst Williams Grammar Granny 016 2006


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