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How to avoid using a passive voice

One of the best pieces of advice for writers I ever heard, was to read out what you've written. That means you could do with eliminating passive voice from your prose. Here's some notes on how to do that.

In the beginning there was a subject. Then, the subject did something to an object. And the object was there to take part.

Subject, verb, object

The structure for an active sentence is subject first, followed by the verb and then the object.

The reason it works is: verbs are action words. They do something in the sentence. Next, there is the entity doing the doing. I've always wanted to write doing the doing. Finally, there is a thing getting stuff done to it.

Andy wrote the words.

The words were written by Andy.

Andy (the subject doing the writing) wrote (verb) the words (object).

The words (object now in the subject position) were written (verb) by Andy (subject in the wrong place).

Who cares? We are not at school anymore...

Your readers will care. Because your prose will be too wordy and verbose. It also won't read as clear as it otherwise might.

Reading out loud what you've written is a good passive test. After some practice, you'll spot where you prose has gone to sleep.

It is worth pointing out that passive sentences are not a grammatical mistake. There are times when a passive sentence is helpful. Such as, when you want to tone down the effect of your words. Or alter the pacing of a paragraph.

It's true, most of us aren't at school anymore. But paying attention to your writing is a good thing in any walk of life. And as a general rule, keeping passiveness at bay is a good thing too.

Some more examples - for clarity

My coffee has gone cold.

That sentence might be too short for some people's taste. Creative writers would rather that I used a more sensory approach to describe the situation.

I could take a photograph, but that wouldn't help in this case...

I was busy writing a new blog post. I paused for some thought and took another swig of my coffee. The tepid fluid tasted like a cheap throat lozenge, it was time to put the kettle back on.

There you go, a more creative approach to saying: my coffee has gone cold.

You'll notice that I still avoided using passive voice. It took more words to give you the sense that my coffee was cold, but I still did it using active voice.

Oh, and by the way, my coffee has gone cold. So, I'll wrap this up now.


Avoiding passive voice is a good thing in your writing - even if you don't write for a living. Active voice lets your prose ebb and flow in a natural way. It only takes some practice to keep your writing moving along as it should.