There’s a thing in writing that some writing people know, whilst others don’t (know it). And that’s active voice. Which isn’t passive voice. Confused? That’s passive voice! So, yes, you should be.
What’s Active Voice?
It’s a sentence where a subject acts upon its verb. Here’s an example:
- Passive voice: For dinner, six Pot Noodle Sandwiches were eaten by Jeffrey.
- Active voice: Jeffrey ate six Pot Noodle sandwiches for dinner.
Asides from being an impossible slob (who eats a Pot Noodle sandwich!?), Jeffrey is right to like noodles. However, one sentence is sharper than the other. That’s active voice, for you.
This heads out across the world, of course, it’s not just English speaking folks who do it. Here’s a French version:
- Le chien a mordu le facteur (The dog bit the postal carrier).
- Le facteur a été mordu par le chien (The postal carrier was bitten by the dog).
Our day job is as copywriters/content writers/morons in the world of marketing. Active voice is a big deal there and some content managers obsess over it.
Even though 99% of the reading world wouldn’t give a damn either way, whether they know what passive voice is or not.
For us, it’s simple—use the bloody thing if you’re writing professionally. It makes you look like you know your stuff.
Now, anyone who knows about this stuff will see on our site we regularly write in passive voice. There are three reasons for this:
- It’s our goddamn site and we can goddamn do what we goddamn want, thank you very much!
- Sometimes we can’t be arsed mangling a sentence in the name of active voice.
Typically, for us, it’s an expedience thing. We have to run Professional Moron around our real job.
So, spending ages meticulously ensuring everything is in active voice would add about 10 hours onto our annual content creation time.
In short, we’re being lazy about it. For which we don’t apologise. But, for sure, if you work in marketing/journalism then you should aim for active voice.
Heck, it was one of George Orwell’s rules for writing, “Never use the passive where you can use the active.” Although he does use passive within his six rules, confusing the situation further.
But we do have a good excuse. The whole point of this site is to be dumb. So, being all over the place with active/passive voice sits comfortably with our cultivated image of staggering incompetence.
But consider it a useful little tip if you want to sharpen up thy writing.
Zombies & Passive Voice
If you don’t want to come across like an idiot, then you need to learn all about active voice. One good way of doing so is with the “by zombies” rule.
If you can add “by zombies” onto the end of a sentence, it’s probably passive voice. Here’s an example:
- For dinner, six Pot Noodle Sandwiches were eaten (by zombies).
- Jeffrey ate six Pot Noodle sandwiches for dinner (you can’t get “by zombies” in there).
So, whilst this mansplaining to you is all good fun, remember there’s an important message behind all of this. It’s just we can’t remember what that is.
Just pretend the fate of the universe depends upon this.
Quite a lot of content managers/copywriters sure do. Are they right? Well, who know’s how that’ll be decided!? (by zombies)