Rid Your Writing of the Passive Voice

In the simplest definition: When a verb is in the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is the recipient of the verb’s action rather than being the ‘doer’ of the action. For example, in “The football was thrown by the quarterback,” the football (the subject) receives the action of the verb. A better and therefore active version of the example sentence would be: “The quarterback threw the football.” When the subject becomes obscured, it makes understanding difficult for the reader.

Editing from passive voice to active is a simple fix that will improve your writing.


Sometimes Passive Voice Is Difficult To Spot

Here are a couple of small paragraphs for your consideration.

Jorguth fished the scroll from his sack and offered it to Maselle. She opened the rolled vellum and admired the exquisite and pain-staking beauty of the penmanship. The spell was written in elegant Elven calligraphy in black and red ink.

Dusk’s sunset burned red on the horizon. The vast open landscape was filled with magnificent looking trees, shrubs, and flowers. Jorguth smiled as his eyes soaked in the beauty of the view.

Did you spot the two passive sentences?

Is There a Correct Time or Place for Passive Voice?

The best way to use the passive voice is in dialog, specifically when a character is trying to shirk responsibility.

“Well, some mistakes were made. But I have faith a solution will be found.”

Did you notice that nobody receives credit for the mistakes? Later, if the problem is not resolved, it is the “solution’s” fault for remaining elusive. .” (Listen carefully to Politicians in the future.)

A Simple Solution

Use the “find” function on your word processor and search for forms of “to be” like was and were. Even if your sentences are not passive, you should filter those words out. I once blogged about removing forms of “to be” in order to speed up your writing. Too many instances of the offending verb can make your writing slow down to a crawl.

Did you find this strategy helpful?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Every Time You Reply Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

13 thoughts on “Rid Your Writing of the Passive Voice

  1. Hello cousin hope all is well with and family Mom showed me pictures of baby beautiful he looks like you Earnest enjoy him they grow so fast. Love you Sugar


  2. I used to be a ‘was’ girl, so I know exactly what you are talking about.

    Question: I see how one of the two passive sentences can be changed, but what would you do with: The spell was written in elegant Elven calligraphy in black and red ink.

    Maybe: The scribe had used black and red ink and wrote the spell in elegant Elven calligraphy.

    ‘Was’ is sometimes needed, but I do battle with it every day.

    Your son is growing. Wow. He’s a cutey.


    • Hi Colin!
      “…tricky little buggers…” Sorry that I didn’t use that line in this post. 🙂
      Of course, it’s always better for another pair of eyes to spot those verbal peccadillos. My eyes cast a tight net on other authors, but not for my own.


  3. I’m currently on a ‘was’ hunt in my WIP. I’m using ‘find’ as you suggest. It’s a slow process, though. I’ve next got to do ‘were’, ‘is’ and ‘be’. When you do this, you realise just how ‘was-happy’ you are.


  4. I cannot use the passive in Italian, yet they love using it here in Italy. I cannot in the sense that I don’t know it well, my knowedge of Italian verbs is not so good 🙂 Ciao Ernesto!


    • Ciao Amica! My knowledge of Italian verbs stretches pretty thin as well. Although, I could do it if I put my mind to it.
      Was actually pondering this lately. I would like Francesco (mi figlio) to have some kind of ability in Italian, French, and Spanish.


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