Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mistakes are made by the passive voice

Few things will bring more clarity to your writing than the active voice.

In the active voice, a subject verbs an object. In the passive voice, an object is verbed by a subject.
Active: I rode the bicycle. Four words. "I" is the most important thing. 
Passive. The bicycle was ridden by me. Six words. "Bicycle" is the most important thing.
So what's wrong with the passive? For one thing, as we know from listening to politicians, it can be used to conceal things.
"Mistakes were made."
By whom?

A second objection is that the passive voice requires more work on the part of the reader. The WhiteSmoke blog illustrates this with a movie reference.
If you've seen the movie Star Wars,  think of how Yoda speaks. He inverts the order of subjects and objects, and his sentences are a little jumbled and hard to understand at first.

Yoda Quote: "Named must your fear be before banish it you can."

Yoda uses a different order than regular Subject Verb Object English. He uses a mix of patterns, including VOS. Either way, Yoda's words are a bit confusing at first. They require additional thought. You don't want the same for your writing; the goal is clarity and boldness, not ambiguity or lengthy contemplation.
There are perfectly good reasons to use the passive -- perhaps you don't know who or what the subject is, or you want to emphasize the object. But make those excepptions to the rule.

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