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The First Deadly Sin


1Passive Voice

In most instances, put the verb in the active voice rather than in the passive voice.

Passive voice produces a sentence in which the subject receives an action. In contrast, active voice produces a sentence in which the subject performs an action. Passive voice often creates unclear, less direct, wordy sentences, whereas active voice creates clearer, more concise sentences.

To change a sentence from passive to active voice, determine who or what performs the action, and use that person or thing as the subject of the sentence.

Examples

  • PASSIVE VOICE: My first trip abroad will always be remembered by me. 
    PASSIVE VOICE: My first trip abroad is one I will always remember. 
    ACTIVE VOICE: I will always remember my first trip abroad.
  • PASSIVE VOICE: On April 19, 1775, arms were seized by British soldiers at Concord, precipitating the American Revolution. 
    ACTIVE VOICE: On April 19, 1775, British soldiers seized arms at Concord, precipitating the American Revolution.
  • PASSIVE VOICE: Thomas Jefferson’s support of the new Constitution was documented in a letter to James Madison. 
    ACTIVE VOICE: Thomas Jefferson documented his support of the new Constitution in a letter to James Madison.

Overuse of to be

(a related problem)

Using forms of to be (e.g., is, are, was, were) leads to wordiness. Use an action verb instead.

  • Example: It is the combination of these two elements that makes the argument weak. 
    REVISED: The combination of these two elements weakens the argument.

Contact Information


Writing Center

Kirner-Johnson 152
315-859-4363
Find Your Voice
Written & Oral Communication

Find Your Voice


Developing the ability to communicate in a clear, organized and effective way is a central goal of a liberal arts education — and a prerequisite for a successful career. That’s why we established centers for writing and speaking.

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