2

I always hear people say, "Write in the active voice," so I decided to eliminate passive voice from my writing (as much as possible). It made my writing stronger, but I wonder: Does writing too much in the active voice have drawbacks?

  • I think this is basically "writing advice". If neither ELU nor writers.SE want it, I don't see why it should be "dumped" on ELL. – FumbleFingers Sep 30 '15 at 14:00
  • @F It seems to fit the "welcome" list and does not fit the "not allowed" list. – Andrew Leach Sep 30 '15 at 14:09
  • I'm unclear on what your concern is. What caused you to wonder this? Is there an example of your writing you can provide to illustrate the issue? @FumbleFingers I think this question is fine here. – Neil Fein Sep 30 '15 at 14:24
  • @Andrew: I assume you mean this question falls under General copywriting, style, and organization in the ELL FAQ, but I'm not convinced that justifies moving the question here rather than leaving it under ELU (where questions about Word choice and usage are "welcome"). So far as I'm concerned, the question should have stayed on ELU, because there's no obvious reason why only learners would be interested in what is at the end of the day a broad-ranging question about style and usage. – FumbleFingers Sep 30 '15 at 14:32
  • @Neil Fein: I've actually closevoted as "opinion-based", but I don't feel too strongly about closing it anyway. My concern is with the idea that it's somehow more on-topic here than where it was originally posted. I think by default a question should be dealt with where it's first posted, if (as in this case, imho) there's no obvious reason why it would be a better fit on another site. – FumbleFingers Sep 30 '15 at 14:37
7

The passive voice is a grammatical tool, and like any tool it can be overused. However, passive voice does have legitimate uses; there are times it makes sense to use it. This is particularly the case in fiction and personal essays, where mood is important and economy of phrasing can contribute to pacing.

Casting absolutely everything into the active voice can make writing more action-oriented, since it clarifies who the subject of a sentence is. But there are some sentences that are easier and simpler when cast with the passive voice.

Seeking out egregious uses of passive voice - "the door was opened" becomes "he opened the door" - can make writing much stronger. It can also prompt the writer to be more specific in their prose. However, there are times when a mysterious, detached air to a sentence is just what the moment demands, so I'd use good judgment when editing passive voice out of a draft.

4

Active and passive voice are tools, like a hammer and a drill. It's less a question of using one "too much" and more a matter of when each tool is appropriate for the rhetorical situation (ie, your audience, your topic, your purpose).

Basically, you can carpenter your writing together with nails or with screws, but the results will be different, as will the effect on the audience.

If you're writing action scenes in a thriller novel, it's hard to imagine when active voice would be less effective. If you're writing documentation for the government, it's hard to imagine when active voice would be allowed. :)

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