The Active Voice

Your writing becomes stronger when you use the active voice. Good writers favor the active voice, which they describe as more natural, direct, lively, and succinct. They think of the passive voice as wordy and weak
weak, passive:
The skater was slammed into the wall by Maria.
strong, active:
Maria slammed the skater into the wall.
weak, passive:
The book was enjoyed by me because the events of her childhood were     described so well by the author.
strong, active:
I enjoyed the book because the author described the events of her childhood so well.
Notice how much shorter the active voice is:
Passive: When application of force is used, the lid will open.
Active: Apply force to open the lid
Passive: Your exits should be made quickly.
Active: Leave quickly
Passive: The man was bitten by the dog.
Active: The dog bit the man.
Passive: I was told by my teacher to come at noon.
Active: My teacher told me to come at noon
Passive voice always involves a to be verb. To be verbs include am, are, been, being, is, was, were. On the other hand, a sentence can include a to be verb without being passive.
Achieving Active Writing
Active language comes not just from avoiding passive voice but further requires the use of strong action verbs. In addition to avoiding to be verbs, you should try to replace helping verbs such as have, had, has, do, does, did and other vague verbs like got and get.
Before: I had opportunities to develop my skills.
After: I sought opportunities to develop my skills.
Before: I got the promotion through hard work.
After: I earned the promotion through hard work.
Before: She did well in this competitive environment.
After: She thrived in this competitive environment.
Before: My mother didn’t want to show up without a gift.
After: My mother hesitated to show up without a gift.

Take a look at a page of your writing. Is there a passive verb you can change to an active one? A weak verb you can replace with a strong one?

(Join Ed Griffin for some creative writing classes at the Phoenix Centre, every Monday from 10 to noon. We’ll start with two sessions on slam poetry, then two on writing greeting cards, and then the basics. In these courses, we: pass the hat, work hard and learn a lot, have a lot of fun, give away all the secrets of writing. Starts next Monday, April 7. The Phoenix Centre is behind Surrey Hospital, so it’s hard to park. However, we give you a parking pass. Send questions to and sign up at that email.)



5 responses to “The Active Voice

  1. Wish I could take the class, I’m looking for something online; working full time and when I’m not working, I’m writing. I’ve got the storytelling, I need the form and proper grammer.

    • I understand. Perhaps some good books on writing might help. Spend some time looking at the “how to” writing books. Also, meet with a fellow writer for coffee. Trade manuscripts. Every writer needs feedback. You are not alone. There is a big community of writers out there. Reach out….

      • I have several books, but my grammar is lacking. Rules and form… these are things a good editor could correct but I’m not there yet.

        I’ve reached out and made some good friends; I’ve recently moved and am in the process of trying to find local writers. I also post excerpts on here of my works in progress.

        Thank you for the ideas and for responding. You are right a live fellow writer is something we should all have.

    • Lost my comment. I understand your dilemma. Maybe you could have coffee with one fellow writer. There is a big community of writers out there. We are all isolated, so we reach out to others. If you do the same, it will be rewarding. Also find some good “How to” books about writing

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