Every content writer or ghostwriter who posts to WordPress blogs, or just do content writing as a hobby, the use of passive voice should be avoided. What is passive voice and why should writers stay away from it 90 percent of the time? Here’s the short version of a very old, rather complicated writing topic:
What It Is
In sentences where the subject precedes the object, the voice is active: “Mr. Jones ate the apples.” When the “thing acted upon” precedes the actor, we’re using the passive voice: “The apples were eaten by Mr. Jones.” That sentence says exactly the same thing but in a weaker, less clear way. In modern English, nearly every standard sentence, in both spoken and conversational language, is active.
Some people think that the human brain simply understands direct, “subject-verb-object” structure more easily than the illogical “object-verb-subject” arrangement.
It’s worth noting that many foreign languages, Chinese and Japanese for example, also tend to avoid the use of passive voice. In fact, Mandarin Chinese most frequently used that same “subject-verb-object” setup. There aren’t many ways in which Chinese and English are similar, but that’s one of them! People all over the world, it seems, tend to prefer direct, clear language. Passive voice is unclear, sometimes ambiguous, and anything but direct.
Has any suitor every said to his beloved: “You are loved by me”? The “three little words,” “I love you” does a much better job because the sentence is inactive, not passive voice.
Passive Voice Has Limited Uses
In scientific papers and certain kinds of dramatic writing, passive voice has its place. When the subject of the sentence is not known, passive voice can work well. “Mr. Griggs was murdered!,” said the police inspector. The previous sentence is a prime example of the proper use of passive voice. We don’t know who did the killing, so we use passive voice to highlight that fact. In a mystery novel or newspaper story about a crime, passive voice is often used. In almost all other writing, its use is rare and limited to scientific research papers.
Passive Voice Weakens Content
The biggest argument against passive voice is that it weakens just about any piece of writing in which it is used. “Mrs. Wilson asked the boys to leave,” is a solid use of active voice. Imagine that sentence in passive: “The boys were asked by Mrs. Wilson to leave.” It’s much weaker and even a bit unclear.
Know When to Use and Not Use Passive Voice
The main thing for every content writer to understand is that passive verbs do have a place in content, but only on rare occasions. Scientific writing and limited other situations will either call out for passive voice or it will be the only grammatically correct way to set a phrase.
Overall, for those who do typical types of web writing, a good rule is to just stay far away from passive voice. When in doubt, leave it out, as one saying goes. But the most important thing for every writer, whether an academic or everyday content is involved, it to “just say no” to passive voice.