How to Identify the Passive Voice in Writing

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“The Dude abides.”

“[Mr. Gorbachev], tear down this wall.”

“Just do it.”

These are strong, memorable statements. They are in active voice. When communicating with energy, active voice makes a lot of difference.

Let’s recast these sentences in passive voice.

Abiding is what the Dude does.

This wall should be torn down.

It should be done by you.

Passive voice requires more words and weaker verbs, almost always a variation on “to be.” Passive voice does not engage the reader or listener.

In partial answer to Hamlet, I suggest you NOT “to be.”

I learned a nifty rule for identifying passive voice: If you can place “by zombies” after the verb … it’s almost guaranteed to be passive voice (but, possibly awesome).

This wall should be torn down by zombies = passive.

Tear down by zombies this wall = not passive.

The zombies exercise helps identify passive voice.

To change the voice of the sentence, rearrange the components.

Basic English sentence structure contains a subject, a verb and usually an object. [You: subject] just do [verb] it [object].

Passive voice puts the object ahead of the verb and the subject last. It [object] should be done by [weak verb cluster] you [subject].

This tells you how to flip passive voice to active. Flip the subject and object.

Our customers [object] are respected by us [subject]. = We [subject] respect our customers [object].

Even if your audience does not know the difference by the rules, they recognize the difference when they encounter it in content marketing. While most others crank out pedestrian copy every moment, invest a little time into your content and it will stand apart in getting and retaining the attention your business needs to compete.

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