Passive voice

Bottom line

Use active voice—unless you have a strong reason to use passive.

This chapter attacks the most important villain of readability in business and technical writing: passive voice.

If you've heard one outcry against bad business and government writing, it's "Too much passive voice!" That's a good outcry, because bureaucratic writers significantly overuse it. Passive voice isn't always bad, but lots of it absolutely kills readability.

What is passive voice?

Identifying passive voice is simple. Just go through these two steps:

1. Look for a form of the verb to be. Here's the complete list: am, are, is, was, were, be, been, being.

2. Now look for a past participle. These are easy to identify: they normally end in -ed or -en. Examples: carried, taken. Note: There are a few irregular verbs that have past participles that don't end in -ed or -en: held, made, kept, etc. You'll soon get the hang of identifying them.

If both parts are present, you have passive voice. Here's an example:

The box was lifted by the worker.

I-AND a past participle

Here are some other examples of verbs in the passive voice:

has been fitted could have been takgn were written

are kept (irregular verb)

Notice that you can always add a prepositional phrase beginning with by to passive sentences:

The suit has been fitted by the tailor.

The report is kept by the analysts.

Easy enough, isn't it? So just look for:

• and a past participle

If you have both, you have a verb that's passive. And because you have a passive verb, there will always be a slot for a prepositional phrase beginning with by.

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