Monday, October 25, 2010

Voice, Part 3: Distinguishing Passive from Active Voice

When determining whether a sentence is active or passive, look for the association between the subject and verb. Start by looking for the action. In the sentence below, the action is bought, and the subject, Ms. Barnes, performed the action. When the subject of the sentence performs the action, the sentence is active.

Ms. Barnes bought the store last week.

In this next sentence, the action is was brought, and the subject, store, is acted upon. When the subject of the sentence is the recipient of the action, the sentence is passive.

The store was bought last week.

Passive voice uses the verb to be (e.g., am, are, is, was, were, be, being, been) and a part participle verb. Examples:

I am updated weekly by my supervisor on the project.

The buildings are monitored for safety.

Alexandra’s performance is reviewed by her manager.

Ben was told that he can begin the project.
They were alerted of the situation.

You will be invited to attend the meeting.

Carrie enjoys being given opportunities to brief management.

Donald has been sold the property.

As you can see, passive voice, as well as active voice, can appear in past, present, or future situations, so it is a mistake to think that passive voice means past tense.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Voice, Part 2: Passive Voice Can Be Good or Bad

The previous post showed how passive voice could be an improvement over active voice in certain situations. While in some instances passive is more concise than active, it generally is not as the examples below demonstrate.

Passive: The case was reviewed by the judge. (7 words)
Active: The judge reviewed the case. (5 words)

Passive: The hotel was designed by a renowned architect, and it is managed by an experienced team. (16 words)
Active: A renowned architect designed the hotel, and an experienced team manages it. (12 words)

In rare cases, passive is clearer, but active is lucid more often because the doers of the action are apparent, as in the examples below.

Passive: The usability test was conducted, but the report was not completed.
Active: R&D conducted the usability test but has not completed the report.

Passive: The check will be mailed when the invoice is received.
Active: I will mail the check when I receive the invoice.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Voice, Part 1: Active Is Not Necessarily Better Than Passive

Too often, I hear that active voice is superior to passive voice. The truth is, however, active is not necessarily stronger, clearer, economical, or better than passive.

In this situation, the passive sentence is stronger.

  • Active: Would you please give this book to your manager.
  • Passive: This book must be given to your manager.

In the next pair, the passive sentence is clearer.

  • Active: The data will undergo an examination.
  • Passive: The data will be examined by the analyst.

In the example below, the passive sentence is more economical.

  • Active: Carmen, Charlie, Nick, and Victor reviewed the document. (8 words)
  • Passive: The document was reviewed. (4 words)

Finally, the passive sentence below is better than the active for all the above reasons: it is stronger, clearer, and briefer. The passive sentence immediately focuses on the safety issue, while the active sentence is clunky and wishy-washy.

  • Active: We assume that someone in Engineering will attempt to correct the problem with the relief valve before one of the production team staff members places the compressor in production.
  • Passive: The problem with the relief valve must be corrected before the compressor is placed in production.

I will continue this series on voice in subsequent posts.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Myth-busting about Education and Technology

If you believe, as I do, that when it comes to learning, adults are children in big bodies, then you might find helpful a recently published report by Walden University. The report,

Educators, Technology and 21st Century Skills: Dispelling Five Myths—A Study on the Connection Between K–12 Technology Use and 21st Century Skills, claims that the more K–12 teachers use technology, the more they value its strong positive effects on student learning and engagement and its connection to 21st century skills.

The myths, related to teacher preparedness and student engagement, are only the beginning of the report. The implications of Dispelling Five Myths are far-reaching across the curriculum and most contemporary education themes, such as global awareness, entrepreneurial literacy, and health literacy. The report concludes with 12 specific recommendations for teachers, administrators, postsecondary educators, and legislators form all levels of government. It also lists excellent technology-related resources.

Books by Philip Vassallo