Revising the Weak Use of Passive Voice
One of the all-time worst offenders for creating unclear, wordy, indirect writing is the passive-voice construction. It's easy enough to convert a sentence from active voice to passive voice, and back again:
Active: The student wrote the report.
Passive: The report was written by the student.
However, the passive voice can be a shifty operator—it can cover up its source, that is, who's doing the acting, as this example show:
Passive: The papers will be graded according to the criteria stated in the syllabus. (Graded by whom though?)
Active: The teacher will grade the papers according to the criteria stated in the syllabus. (Oh! that guy...).
(It's this ability to cover the actor or agent of the sentence that makes the passive voice a favorite of people in authority—policemen, city officials, and, yes, teachers. But save that for some other course!) At any rate, you can see how the passive voice can cause wordiness, indirectness, and comprehension problems.
Passive: Your figures have been reanalyzed in order to determine the coefficient of error. The results will be announced when the situation is judged appropriate.
Active: We have reanalyzed your figures in order to determine the range of error. We will announce the results when the time is right.
Passive: Almost all home mortgage loans nowadays are made for twenty-five years. With the price of housing at such inflated levels, those loans cannot be paid off in any
shorter period of time.
Active: Almost all home mortgage loans nowadays are for twenty-five years. With the price of housing at such inflated levels, homeowners cannot pay off those loans in
any shorter period of time.
Passive: After the arm of the hand-held stapler is pushed down, the blade from the magazine is raised by the top-leaf spring, and the magazine and base
Active: After you push down on the arm of the hand-held stapler, the top-leaf spring raises the blade from the magazine, and the magazine and base move apart.
Passive: However, market share is being lost by 5.25-inch diskettes as is shown in the graph in Figure 2.
Active: However, 5.25-inch diskettes are losing market share as the graph in Figure 2 shows.
Passive: For many years, federal regulations concerning the use of wire-tapping have been ignored. Only recently have tighter restrictions been imposed on the circumstances
that warrant it.
Active: For many years, government officials have ignored federal regulations concerning the use of wire-tapping. Only recently has the federal government imposed tighter
restrictions on the circumstances that warrant it.
Don't get the idea that the passive voice is always wrong and should never be used. It is a good writing technique when we don't want to be bothered with an obvious or too-often-repeated subject and when we need to rearrange words in a sentence for emphasis.
English III Honors