How to Eliminate Passive Voice

One of the biggest issues I come across as an editor is authors who write in a passive voice. When authors choose to write in a passive voice it tells your readers two things about you as a writer. First, you are not polished. Why? To write in passive voice is what I call the easy way out. Anyone can use the word ‘was’ or ‘were’ following by a weak ‘ing’ verb. Secondly, when you write in this manner your subject is being acted upon rather than doing the action it weakens your writing. Consider this example.

  1. The family was going to Disneyland for Christmas.

The above example is written passively. In fact, if you review your own writing and use the word search tool in Microsoft Word and search for the word ‘was’ you will find many of your passive voice sentences. To modify and enhance your writing omit the word ‘was’ and change it to past tense and replace the weak ‘ing’ verb to a strong verb.

Now consider the rewrite of the above sentence.

  1. The family traveled to Disneyland for Christmas.

In the above sentence I made the subject – family- perform the action – traveled. I also used a stronger verb – traveled – instead of went. It is a stronger sentence this way.

To identify the rest of your passive sentences anytime you use the form of ‘be’ you wrote in the passive voice. The forms of the verb to be in English are as follows:

Infinitive to be
Present am, is, are
Past was, were
Present Participle being
Past Participle been
Present Subjunctive be
Past Subjunctive were
Imperative be

HOW TO ELIMINATE PASSIVE VOICE

To eliminate passive voice, you must write to make the subject perform the action. In other words, make certain your subject comes before the verb.

You can shift the focus of the sentence from the direct or indirect object to the subject. For example, you can transform the following sentences from passive to active voice by removing the form of ‘be’ to a strong action verb. I have used bold font to identify the passive voice and the weak verbs and in the revised sentence marked the stronger verbs and active voice in italics.

Passive: The child was running down the hall to get to class on time.

Active: The child bolted through the hall to arrive to class on time.

Passive Voice: After class Mary was starving so she went to the closest store to buy junk food.

Active: After class, Mary’s stomach growled so she strode to the closest story purchase junk food.

Notice that I have the subject doing the action and I replaced the weak verbs with stronger ones which enhanced the sentence. I also enhanced the sentence by showing rather than telling when I described Mary’s stomach.

Good luck.

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