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The challenge here is to choose between active voice and passive voice.
- The voice is active when the subject acts.
- The voice is passive if the subject is on the receiving end of some action.
Does it matter which you use?
This is not a black-and-white situation. One is not always right; the other is not always wrong. Much depends on the purpose of the communication.
How precise does your text need to be?
- Passive voice can be long-winded, awkward and vague.
- Active voice usually results in fewer words and greater clarity.
How close do you want the reader to feel to what’s going on?
- Passive voice tends to depersonalise or undermine the authority of a character so an author might use passive voice if that’s the desired effect. Passive voice might also introduce a sense of mystery: the body was found in the library!
- Active voice includes mention of a subject who is the centre of attention, eg the main character of a story. Active voice directly links the character with their actions.
The choice is yours …
If you are writing a report, it may be better not to mention who has done what, just that something has been done. The focus with passive voice is therefore on the action, not on the subject.
Such a writing style could seem overly dull if used for short stories or novel writing.
- Mixing active and passive in a single sentence can result in an unnecessary shift in voice. Be kind to your readers!
- Using the passive voice, not mentioning the subject, can also result in dangling participles …
What’s a dangling participle?
A dangling particle is a verb form for which there is no subject (omitted on purpose) producing confusion. For example, from Hamlet:
Sleeping in mine orchard, a serpent stung me.
Sleeping is the dangling participle; if does not refer to the subject of the sentence, the serpent, but to ‘me’. It would have been more clear (but less poetic) to write:
While I was sleeping in mine orchard, a serpent stung me.
- If you are using Scrivener, use
- If you are using ProWritingAid, run the