In order to write effective copy, you need to understand the core mechanics of grammar and sentence structure. A common issue that writers encounter involves the use of passive voice, and many people aren’t sure how to use it appropriately.
Not quite sure how to begin? We’ve got all the info you need.
Let’s explore everything you should keep in mind about how to write in a passive voice.
What Exactly Is Passive Voice?
As the name suggests, passive voice involves phrasing your sentence in a way that isn’t quite as strong or direct as ‘active voice.’ In general, the subject of a sentence in passive voice has something done to it as opposed to the subject performing the action.
Let’s take a look at a variation of the same sentence in both active voice and passive voice.
- Active: Mom slammed the door.
- Passive: The door was slammed by Mom.
We previously established that, in the passive voice, the subject is the part of the sentence that the verb affects. This means that ‘Mom’ is no longer relevant once the sentence is changed from active to passive.
So, you could even phrase the sentence like this:
“The door was slammed.”
In this scenario, the above sentence in its ‘purest’ form of passive voice isn’t very interesting. It also doesn’t tell the reader the circumstances, such as that Mom was the one who slammed the door.
How Can I Recognize a Sentence in Passive Voice?
In general, it’s fairly easy to discern when you’re reading a sentence in the passive voice. More often than not, it will sound overly ‘wordy’ or awkward. But, it’s not always this obvious in every case.
You can quickly figure out whether or not a sentence is in passive voice by looking for specific keywords. Some of these include:
More often than not, the above words are used when writing a sentence in the passive voice. A few examples are:
- The ball was hit by Brady.
- The candy was eaten.
- Each year, food is given to the homeless.
Of course, you’ll still need to use your best judgment— not every passive sentence is quite this obvious.
Why Do People Advise Against Using Passive Voice?
When used incorrectly, passive voice easily detracts from the overall clarity of the sentence. As we saw with the sentence about slamming the door, the passive voice version removed the subject ‘Mom’ entirely.
In many scenarios, it could be difficult to determine who slammed the door. Let’s give that particular sentence more context.:
Due to the overwhelming amounts of homework David had to deal with, he didn’t complete the chores like his mother had asked him to. When she arrived home at 6 PM, she entered his bedroom and the two got into a heated argument. The door was slammed.
As you can see, it’s unclear whether David or his mother was the one who slammed the door, resulting in a loss of overall clarity.
In copywriting, it’s best to do all that you can in order to establish a high-quality experience for the reader. This means that you should generally avoid using the passive voice unless you’re able to do so effectively.
But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t ever use it.
When Is It Appropriate to Use?
There are a handful of situations where using passive voice can actually be more effectiveas opposed to active voice.
For example, it’s particularly useful for placing less emphasis on irrelevant actors. In turn, this places more emphasis on the subject of the sentence.
Example: Over 100 fires were ignited last week throughout the entire state, and law enforcement is struggling to find an answer.
In this scenario, the perpetrator(s) who started the fires haven’t yet been identified, so the main focus is on the fires. The same use of passive voice is applicable in sentences where the reader doesn’t need to know who’s responsible for the action.
Passive voice can also be sued to emphasize a particular object.
Example: The clock displayed that there were 60 seconds of time left, and only two more points were needed to win the game.
PAssive voice helps make the scenario much more captivating to the reader.
How Can I Use It Creatively?
You can easily use passive voice to help deflect blame that’s associated with a statement. Unfortunately, this is something we often see with politicians.
Instead of saying “They were responsible for the accident,” you could say “an accident occurred.” This is ideal for acknowledging situations where you don’t want to place the blame directly on another party.
As previously mentioned, you can also use passive voice creatively in order to emphasize certain parts of a sentence. A common example would be when writing about an incident that resulted in the injury or death of another individual.
It’s far more common to write “(celebrity) was killed in a plane crash” than “there was a plane crash earlier this afternoon that killed (celebrity) and five others.”
As long as using passive voice provides extra value to your writing, it’s more than likely an appropriate option.
Understanding How to Write in a Passive Voice Can Seem Complicated
But the above information will make the process far smoother. From here, you’ll be able to know how to write in a passive voice and how to recognize the most appropriate times to do so.
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