News Worksheet 6B: Lead-Writing Exercise: Writing in active voice

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The bane of many newspaper editors, passive voice is easy to avoid once you are sensitized to how it differs from active voice.  Consider the following pair of sentences:


            active:   The dog bit James.

            passive:  James was bitten by the dog.


The first of these sentences is clearly preferable to the second because it is:


l      shorterCount the number of words/characters in the first sentence compared to the second. If you were a newspaper editor trying to sqeeze in as many stories/advertisements as possible in as few pages as possible, wouldn’t you prefer to have your writers consistently using active voice instead of passive voice?


l      simplerStudies show that comprehension rises when sentences appear in subject-verb-object order as required with active voice.


l      less prone to obfuscation  Passive voice makes it easy to drop the actor in a sentence. Consider how easy it would be to drop “by the dog” in the passive sentence above.  If we’re going to hold people responsible for their actions, active voice is the better choice.


How to tell them apart:  In an active voice sentence, the subject does the action — and is placed at the beginning of the sentence.  In a passive voice sentence, the subject receives the action and comes after the verb.


Note:  Sometimes, passive voice works better, but only when the object is more important than the subject, as in “The governor nearly was hit by the flying whip cream pie.”


In the sentences that follow, mark each sentence as either active or passive.  If the sentence is passive, rewrite to make active. 


1.     ____ The strawberries were picked at their peak of ripeness.


2.     ____ Prince Evan will lead the procession.


3.     ____ A peck of peppers were eaten by Peter Piper.


4.     ____ Using his battle axe, Clyde smote the approaching goblins.


5.     ____ Jenny wrinkled her nose when she ate the soup.


6.     ____ I was flustered by my seeming inability to get a good grade in her class.


7.     ____ The ball whooshed by the goalie’s outstretched fingers.


8.     ____ The salad dressing was comprised of oil, vinegar, mustard and honey.