I was looking through my blog feed when I realized I have never done a blog about passive voice and why it’s so difficult. I can’t believe I neglected this! Needless to say this shall be remedied.
Before we go too far, this is an example of passive voice:
The door was closed by the man.
The reason this is passive is because the subject of the sentence – grammatically speaking – is being acted upon rather than acting. Now, there are times when this is necessary in writing, but it makes for a pretty boring scene because the thing the “camera” is focused on isn’t doing the acting. Here are a few more examples of passive voice. After reading them you should start to see why it’s an issue.
Marie’s arm was grabbed by the attacker.
Jason was scared by the large, hairy spider.
The cat was angered by patting hand.
In none of those sentences is any action happening. The action happened before, and the camera is staring at the thing having been acted upon. It doesn’t make for a particularly exciting scene. While the usual culprit of passive construction is the word “was”, it isn’t always the one causing the mischief. The real problem with these sentences is that they’re backwards. If you flip them around you have active voice – the subject of the sentence (grammatically speaking) is now ding the action.
The man closed the door.
The attacker grabbed Marie’s arm.
The large, hairy spider scared Jason.
The patting hand angered the cat.
None of these sentences is literary genius, but they should all serve to show the difference. The action is now being performed by the subject and creates a more dynamic feel to the sentence.
My husband describes it in movie terms when he discusses passive voice. He says it’s like the camera is left at the wrong angle. You’re focused on the wrong part of the scene, and missing the action. I think it’s a great way of explaining the situation because it gives a strong visual. In a movie, if the focus of the camera isn’t on the action then the viewer is missing out on important parts of the story.