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Further Suggestions for Using Passive and Active Voices

Summary:

This handout will explain the difference between active and passive voice in writing. It gives examples of both, and shows how to turn a passive sentence into an active one. Also, it explains how to decide when to choose passive voice instead of active.

Contributors:April Toadvine, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-10-07 01:50:46

1. Avoid starting a sentence in active voice and then shifting to passive.

Unnecessary shift in voice Revised
Many customers in the restaurant found the coffee too bitter to drink, but it was still ordered frequently. Many customers in the restaurant found the coffee too bitter to drink, but they still ordered it frequently.
He tried to act cool when he slipped in the puddle, but he was still laughed at by the other students. He tried to act cool when he slipped in the puddle, but the other students still laughed at him.

2. Avoid dangling modifiers caused by the use of passive voice. A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence.

Dangling modifier with passive voice Revised
To save time, the paper was written on a computer. (Who was saving time? The paper?) To save time, Kristin wrote the paper on a computer.
Seeking to lay off workers without taking the blame, consultants were hired to break the bad news. Who was seeking to lay off workers? The consultants?) Seeking to lay off workers without taking the blame, the CEO hired consultants to break the bad news.

3. Don't trust the grammar-checking programs in word-processing software. Many grammar checkers flag all passive constructions, but you may want to keep some that are flagged. Trust your judgment, or ask another human being for their opinion about which sentence sounds best.

The Paramedic Method is an effective process for helping eliminate passive voice.

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