Harriet Diamond - The Active Voice of Strong Writing

By Harriet Diamond

creator of harrietdiamond.net


When you write a sentence in active voice, someone or something clearly acts.  In passive voice, responsibility for the action is not always clear.  Look at the examples below.



Sondra’s lack of diplomacy destroyed any chance for landing that client.


Passive:  Chances for landing that client were destroyed.  How?  By whom?


Not only does passive voice pass on assigning responsibility, it is neither strong nor clear.  Once you identify the actor, you can rewrite your sentence with greater punch:


Passive:  The expense reporting process was changed three times during the past year.

Active:  The Accounting Office changed the expense reporting process three times during the past year.


Sometimes, passive voice includes the actor, but not until the middle or end of the sentence, introduced by the word, by.

Passive:  The new policy was enacted by the company to reduce customer complaints. 

Passive:  To reduce customer complaints, the new policy was enacted by the company.

Active:  The company enacted the new policy to reduce customer complaints.


Passive:  Recommendations were proposed to remedy the design flaw.

Passive:  Recommendations were proposed by the architect to remedy the design flaw.

Active:  The architect proposed recommendation to remedy the design flaw.


When is passive voice the right choice?


Sometimes, the subject is more important than the action.


The ticket was paid on time

The curtain rose 20 minutes late. 


The above sentences are clearer and more succinct than their active counterparts: 

The motorist paid the ticket on time.

The theatre manager raised the curtain 20 minutes late. 


Sometimes the object is more important than the subject and belongs center stage, in the subject’s role:  The men and women who built the organization have been forgotten.  Who has forgotten them need not be spelled out.  The point is that they’ve been forgotten.


Active voice is usually stronger and more direct.  It gives your writing greater impact.

Grammar in Plain EnglishWriting the Easy WayE-Z EnglishExecutive Writing American StylePerfect Phrases for Writing Company Announcements

Harriet Diamond is the author of Grammar in Plain English, E-Z English, Executive Writing American Style, Writing the Easy Way, and Perfect Phrases for Writing Company Announcements.  Her website is harrietdiamond.net