Editing 101: Passive Voice

One of the mistakes we see most often with new authors is the use of passive voice. So what is passive voice? How can you tell if you’re using passive voice? How can you fix it?

Let’s examine a couple of sentences.

You are loved.

She was saved.

I am taken.

All of those sentences are passive. Want to see active versions of these sentences?

I love.

He saved.

The man took me.

One of the simplest, but  not always accurate, tests to see if your sentence is passive is to add “by zombies” after the verb. If the sentence still makes sense, then it may be passive. Let’s go back to those first three options.

You are loved by zombies. (Yep. That makes sense, even if it is a little dangerous.)

She was saved by zombies. (Yep. Also correct, though zombies don’t often save people.)

I am taken by zombies. (Ouch. We hope you’re okay.)

Now let’s look at the active versions.

I love by zombies. (Nope. That doesn’t make any sense.)

He saved by zombies. (Also no.)

The man took by zombies. (Nope. No matter where you put the  you, it doesn’t make sense.)

Will this test always work? No. And even if it does, there are occasional circumstances where a passive sentence is fine. The trick is to keep the use of the passive voice to a minimum. They should be a rare indulgence, not a staple of your literary diet.

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