Even without meaning to, writers have a way of letting passive voice sneak into their sentences. It can be hard to avoid. It creeps up for several reasons. Sometimes it’s to avoid assigning blame. Other times it’s when we’re trying to avoid committing other grammar mistakes such as using “I” or “we”.
Passive voice is when a sentence starts with the object and not the subject of an action. For example, “Money must be saved for the trip.” Who should be saving the money? The subject is missing.
Good writing is active. Active sentences engage the reader with direct language. They’re also easier to understand: “Carla must save money for the trip.” There, now you understand who is saving money and why.
Here are some common passive voice evasions, how to fix them plus some other common writing errors to avoid:
Using passive voice to avoid using “I” or “we”
It is estimated that over 50% of families will be affected by the change.
We estimate that over 50% of families will be affected by the change.
During the expedition, a discovery was made that could change our perception of history.
Change to: During the expedition, we made a discovery that could change our perception of history.
There are lots of other examples of passive voice that don’t include such obvious omissions. In fact, the majority of passive voice sentences have all the information needed, but continue to use passive voice.
Gifts were given by the United Way to the children of the village.
The United Way gave gifts to the children of the village.
A masterpiece was painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo painted a masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Instructions will be sent to you by the hiring manager.
The hiring manager will send you instructions.
The ball was thrown to John by Simon.
Simon threw the ball to John.
Some other common writing errors to watch for:
- Within a sentence. Be sure that your verb is in agreement with the subject for your sentence. Check out this guide for the most common subject verb agreement pitfalls.
- Within a paper. Stick with the same subject throughout the paper. Don’t suddenly switch from third (he, she, they) to second (you) or vice versa.
Don’t use them. They can be an eyesore to the professor reading your paper. If you come across a cliché in your paper, go back and find another way to express the same idea. Check this comprehensive list of cliches to make sure your not using them.
Sentence fragments are when a group of words are a dependent clause acting as though they were an independent clause.
For example: Jim thought he had locked the door. But no.
The second sentence “But no” is a sentence fragment and not a full sentence.
Change to: Jim thought he had locked the door, but he hadn’t.
When you finish writing a paper, make editing a priority. A lot of common grammar and writing mistakes can be caught and corrected with careful editing. Good luck and happy writing!