September 14, 2018
So you wanna ramp up your copy game, huh? Well you’re in the right place, señorita. A few adjustments to your writing style can be all it takes. Enter: the passive and active voice. Don’t mistake these new terms as mumbo jumbo! Nah, they’re actually pretty cool. Fun fact: Changing a passive voice into an active voice can be the difference between convoluted nonsense and easy-to-read gold.
Don’t get us wrong, the passive voice has its place. But the active voice has a huge impact on the feel of your writing. Compelling, powerful copy that packs a punch is an asset to your business. It jumps off the page, sinks into the reader’s heart and gives them even more reason to love ya. If that’s not reason enough to spike your interest, we don’t know what is! Here we explore exactly how to use the passive and active voice to best suit your business.
We bet you’re wondering when you’ll be using the passive and active voice. And the truth of the matter is – it varies. You’ll use different voices depending on the tonality of your written material. Both the passive and active voice have their own pros and cons. But overall, the active voice will reign supreme if you’re wanting your words to jump off the page.
Let’s plunge into exactly what each voice is and how you can best use them for shimmering copy in your business.
The passive voice is generally used in news stories and political reports. It places no blame and can be a sneaky inclusion in business documents (more on that later). The general structure of the passive voice is:
Object > verb
Object > verb > subject
In favour of the passive voice, you can use it when the subject isn’t known. For example, “my rainbow cupcakes were stolen.” For one, of course they were (they sound delicious). And two, the person completing the action is not known.
So if the passive voice is okay sometimes, what does the active voice do?
The active voice moves. It tells a story. Takes an easy-to-follow journey. It makes your writing so delicious that everyone wants a nibble. Between the passive and active voice, the active voice is predominantly favoured. A sentence using the active voice usually takes this structure:
Subject > verb > object
This makes for an easy-to-follow sentence. Let’s run through some examples.
Passive Voice: The pancake was flipped by the unicorn
Active Voice: The unicorn flipped the pancake
In this instance, it is the unicorn who is doing the action to the pancake. In the active voice example, we can easily follow along. We can also visualise the action from the unicorn’s perspective.
Passive Voice: At the circus, six buckets of popcorn were eaten by Barry
Active Voice: Barry ate six buckets of popcorn at the circus
While the passive voice sets the scene of being at the circus, it sounds kinda funny, right? Obviously Barry was hungry, but by using the active voice, we can follow along with the whole story.
Okay, second last.
Passive Voice: Happiness levels are contributed to by rainbows
Active Voice: Rainbows contribute to happiness levels
Because rainbows are responsible for the outcome, it makes more sense to have this word at the start of the sentence.
Let’s explore some lyrics.
‘I heard it through the grapevine’
You sang it, didn’t you? This uses the active voice.
If we were to change this to a passive voice, the catchy tune would be something like this.
‘It was heard by me through the grapevine.’
Not as punchy, right?
It is often argued that the active voice is always better than the passive voice. Yes, the active voice is more powerful, direct and clear. But the passive voice definitely has its place in business writing too. Here are three examples where it would be a-okay to use the passive voice.
Now that you know the difference between the active and passive voice, it’s time to start using them! Use active voices to add energy, momentum and snazziness to your copy. And take your reader on a journey by using the passive voice less frequently. Use the passive voice when you don’t know, care or want to blame another person. But, in general, out of the passive or active voice – steer towards the active voice.
Have fun, you little rascal!
If you liked this piece, check out our interview with Brooke Darling from The Urban List or what your target market wants you to know.
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