The First Sin
Passive voice produces a sentence in which the subject receives an action. In contrast, active voice produces a sentence in which the subject performs an action. Passive voice often creates unclear, less direct, wordy sentences, whereas active voice creates clearer, more concise sentences.
To change a sentence from passive to active voice, determine who or what performs the action, and use that person or thing as the subject of the sentence.
- PASSIVE VOICE: My first trip abroad will always be remembered by me.
PASSIVE VOICE: My first trip abroad is one I will always remember.
ACTIVE VOICE: I will always remember my first trip abroad.
- PASSIVE VOICE: On April 19, 1775, arms were seized by British soldiers at Concord, precipitating the American Revolution.
ACTIVE VOICE: On April 19, 1775, British soldiers seized arms at Concord, precipitating the American Revolution.
- PASSIVE VOICE: Thomas Jefferson’s support of the new Constitution was documented in a letter to James Madison.
ACTIVE VOICE: Thomas Jefferson documented his support of the new Constitution in a letter to James Madison.
Overuse of to be
(a related problem)
Using forms of to be (e.g., is, are, was, were) leads to wordiness. Use an action verb instead.
- Example: It is the combination of these two elements that makes the argument weak.
REVISED: The combination of these two elements weakens the argument.
Developing the ability to communicate in a clear, organized, and effective way is a central goal of a liberal arts education — and a prerequisite for a successful career. That’s why we established centers for writing and speaking.
Office / Department Name
Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center
Writing Center Director