poetry and prose about place

editing to remove the passive voice

with 10 comments

I am still editing my novel, aiming for the third draft.  Today is about finding and eradicating the passive voice.  When I find an instant of the passive voice, I try to find a better, more active way to present the idea.

The passive voice occurs when the object of an action is expressed as the subject.  ‘The book was read by Jane’ (passive voice)  … instead of … ‘Jane read the book’ (active voice).

The passive voice is often accompanied by a form of the verb ‘to be’.  A simple example:  ‘The text had been edited by the teacher’ (passive voice) … ‘The teacher had edited the text’ (active voice).

The active voice is usually preferred because it’s direct, energetic and less wordy.  Sometimes the passive voice is Ok to use – for example, if the agent of an action is unknown or unimportant:   ‘The letters were misdirected to Toronto.’


Here are examples of some of the changes I have made:


Passive :  The louvers of the belfry were splintered where they had been damaged by the move.

Active:  The move had damaged the louvers of the belfry, splintering the wood.


louvers in the belfry

louvers in a belfry, the wood not splintered!!!


Passive:  Our taste buds were teased by names like the Pickle in the Barrel Pub, Heavenly Hash, and Bob’s Country Diner.

Active:  Names like the Pickle in the Barrel Pub, Heavenly Hash, and Bob’s Country Diner teased our taste buds.


a salad at 'Heavenly Hash'

if there were such a place as ‘Heavenly Hash’, they might serve a salad like this!!!!


Passive: The deconsecration has been approved by the Diocese

Active:  The Diocese has approved the deconsecration.



I treat my edits of dialogue a little differently with respect to the passive voice.  People often speak in the passive and so I am careful to edit for what sounds natural rather than what is grammatically correct!


Copyright  Jane Tims  2013

Written by jane tims

January 16, 2013 at 7:49 am

10 Responses

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  1. I like passive voice shamelessly; consequently, no diatribe will ever be able to dissuade me from using adverbs deliberately and religiously.


    Klaus Schilling

    October 26, 2014 at 4:08 am

    • Hi. It is true that we get locked into ‘rules’ and ‘conventions’ to the extent that we forget spontaneity. Jane


      jane tims

      October 26, 2014 at 4:41 pm

  2. While active voice helps to create clear and direct sentences, sometimes writers find using an indirect expression is rhetorically effective in a given situation, so they choose passive voice.


    Marion Holmes

    February 2, 2013 at 9:53 am

    • Hi. That’s true. Ultimately, a writer has to choose what is best to express the ideas they want to convey. Jane


      jane tims

      February 2, 2013 at 10:24 am

  3. I appreciate this nice clear explanation of what I am supposed to already know. I’ve reread it a few times since you posted it a few days ago! 🙂


    Jane Fritz

    January 20, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    • Hi Jane. You, of all people, are likely to write ‘active’ sentences!!! Jane


      jane tims

      January 21, 2013 at 7:55 am

  4. ugh—it sounds tedious to edit all the sentences the passive voice. I hope that you don’t have too many that you need to change.



    January 17, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    • Hi. It is tedious. Fortunately, I don’t use the passive voice often, but I do use ‘was’ a lot. The house was white, the horse was lame, the mouse was grey. More economical to say the white house, the lame horse and the grey mouse!!!! Jane


      jane tims

      January 17, 2013 at 11:27 pm

  5. This is very interesting, Jane. On most of my posts the WordPress editor flags me for using the passive voice, even on the text of some of the quotes I include. I sort of got what it meant and sometimes made the changes suggested to my own words, but it must be that I talk with a passive voice and write the way I speak. Your explanation and examples are very helpful!


    Barbara Rodgers

    January 17, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    • Hi. I think it is a common speech pattern. I also think it occurs in older writing as a result of the writing fashion-of-the-day. I encounter the passive voice in a lot of work before the middle of the last century. To combat it, I just keep the ‘doer’ formost in my mind. Jane


      jane tims

      January 17, 2013 at 11:16 pm

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