Monday, September 23, 2013

Passive Voice, or Avoiding Accountability

By Louis Campana

Verbs can be defined as active and passive. When using active voice the subject acts upon the object:

Eg, The student wrote the paper.

Here, the sentence follows a simple subject-verb-object order. During passive voice, however, the “subject” disappears.

Eg. The paper was written.

Although the construction of passive voice isn’t technically wrong, active voice is usually clearer and more concise. Active voice also tends to sound more engaging for the reader because a doer (the subject) is acting upon a receiver (the object).

Sometimes passive voice is used to emphasize the object. This is especially true in scientific or technical writing.

Eg. 20 CC’s of IV were administered.
Eg. The solution was neutralized.

Because the subject here is irrelevant to the context of the sentence, passive voice seems to be a better choice.

But, if it’s important to know WHO or WHAT acted on the object (in this case, the “solution” or the “20 CC’s), active voice should be used.

Eg. The DOCTOR administered 20 CC’s of IV.
Eg. The AGENT neutralized the solution.

Moreover, knowing WHO did WHAT provides greater clarity.

Eg. Passive voice: The chair was broken by him.
Eg. Active voice: He broke the chair.

Now, it’s your turn. Turn these sentences from passive to active voice using subjects where necessary:

1.      Laws are enforced by police officers.
2.      The eclipse was seen by astronauts from the international space station.

3.      The computers in the school library were stolen.

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