Q. My editor sent back my article about staff meetings. Her note said, “Rewrite in active voice.” What is she talking about? People don’t race around or have sword fights at our staff meetings. They sit, pretend to listen and text under the table.
A. At our staff meetings, we go over our progress on projects, divvy up responsibilities and try to one-up each other with goofy three-toed sloth impressions. That last part’s not true (usually), but this is:
In the active voice, the subject does something: Sansa builds a castle out of snow. Sansa’s the subject and the mover and shaker of this sentence.
In the passive voice, something is done to the subject: A castle is built out of snow by Sansa. Now an inanimate object is the subject and the sentence just doesn’t have the same energy. The passive voice is wordier and can be confusing because the word order makes it harder to conjure up a mental image of what is happening.
When reading the active voice sentence, “Dany considers her options,” we first picture Dany. What’s she doing? She’s deciding what to do next. Perhaps her eyes are narrowing slightly and her brow is starting to furrow. She’s just standing there, but we know that something interesting is about to happen. Watch out world.
Here’s that same scene in the passive voice: “Options are being considered by Dany.” For 85% of that sentence, we’re not sure who’s doing the what. And it’s much harder to picture. What do options under consideration look like? Who is the better action hero — Dany or some options?
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