How concerned should we be over passive sentences?
My response has included both extremes: ignore every one of them and kill each one. Right now, I’m somewhere in the middle.
Years ago spell check shocked me by showing all of the passive sentences I used when I wrote. Seemingly every sentence. It was so bad I turned off the option. That way my passive wording wouldn’t confront me. I justified this by claiming passive writing was my voice.
I was just being lazy.
Eventually, I got serious about writing and turned the option back on. I now check for passive phrases and attempt to correct them.
Half the time it’s easy to do. The rest seem hard to fix, and sometimes the result is less clear and more wordy. When that happens I leave them as is. A few passive phrases aren’t bad. Really.
So every time spell check warns me of a passive sentence I scrutinize it. If I can correct it and make the sentence stronger, I will gladly do so. However, if removing the passive construct results in a sentence that is verbose, confusing, or longer, I’m better off leaving it as is.
Keeping a passive construct that’s concise seems preferable to forcing an active voice that’s ambiguous.
That’s how I deal with passive sentences.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.