The Dreaded Passive Voice #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

The Dreaded Passive Voice

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a low-life snob when it comes to using passive voice in writing. I’m better than that. I know enough not to let the dreaded passive voice into my sentences. When I critique someone else’s work, you can bet I’ve commented on the number of times they used “was”.

Imagine my chagrin/humiliation/embarrassment as I edited one of my own manuscripts and found not just a few instances of the dreaded passive voice, but many, many sentences. Oh, the indignity. Oh, the horror.

What is Passive Voice?

For all the new writers out there (and, apparently, me), a definition of passive voice:

Passive voice makes the object of an action into the subject:

Drusilla Armour-Bacon had been freed by that Winter man.

The object of the sentence, Drusilla Armour-Bacon, is not the doer of the action. The verb is “freed”. The subject, “that Winter man” is the one who freed her. He is the subject. She is the object. Simple sentence structure, which I forgot for about 73,000 words.

A better sentence:

That Winter man freed Drusilla Armour-Bacon.

Here’s another example:

The ruler was judged not only on what he did, but the company he kept.

The ruler is not judging. Someone else is. Put those who judge at the beginning of the sentence to make it more active:

People judged the ruler not only on what he did but the company he kept.


X did Y


X was done by Y

Most times, the culprit is a form of the be verb: was, am, are, is, been. My personal hiccup is been.

Passive: The man had been decked out in gold and red braid.

Active: The man had decked himself out in gold and red braid.

Passive: It had been dark with no welcoming lights to greet them.

Active: No welcoming lights greeted them.

Changing from passive to active makes the sentence clearer, shorter, more impactful, and easier to understand.

The “by zombies” or “by dinosaurs” rule

The "by dinosaurs" rule. the dreaded passive voice

Your posts have been helped by images. (passive voice)

If you have difficulty (as I apparently do) with passive verbs, try the “by zombies” or “by dinosaurs” trick.

If you can insert “by zombies” or “by dinosaurs” after the verb and it makes sense, the sentence is passive.

The man had been decked out (by zombies) in gold and red braid.

The ruler was judged (by dinosaurs) not only on what he did, but the company he kept.

Another handy tool is to flip the sentence around.

The guards were incinerated by the dragon.

The dragon incinerated the guards.

Here’s a good active-into-passive voice exercise brought to you by

Now that I (finally) know the insidious way passive verbs can infiltrate my sentences, I’m off to Revisionland.

Today’s blog post is a part of the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop.

Blogging every day #Authortoolboxbloghop

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15 Responses to The Dreaded Passive Voice #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. LOL. We can sure see mistakes in other people’s writing, certain that we don’t err like that. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Ronel visiting on Author Toolbox blog hop day: eBooks — The Future or a Mistake?

  2. Louise says:

    I love the ‘by zombies’ rule 🙂 I just need to remember it when writing and editing, because I’m sure I’m still using passive voice too often!

  3. There is a lot of misinformation among writers about what passive voice is and when it’s useful. Thanks for sharing this post

  4. admin says:

    Right! Sometimes passive voice is the best choice. I was thirsty. The night was stormy.

  5. admin says:

    I wish I could take credit for the zombies rule. Little tricks like this help us write better.

  6. admin says:

    We’re blind when it comes to our own writing, aren’t we? Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Kaci says:

    Great tips! Never would have thought to include the by dragons or by zombies trick. Awesome work!

  8. Iola says:

    Passive voice is often a problem, but not always. To use your example:

    The man had decked himself out in gold and red braid.

    This says the man dressed himself. But what if he hadn’t? What if he was an actor or a model? In that case, someone else decided what he would wear, and the passive example would be correct:

    The man had been decked out in gold and red braid.

    This version also implies “the man” isn’t the viewpoint character—that he is being observed by someone else. So what looks like passive voice is sometimes the only accurate way to write the sentence.

  9. I totally agree with your comment that sometimes this sentence structure works best, often (I think) when the object is also the most interesting part of the sentence, and you want to end the sentence with a bam! Also, I think it’s important for variation in syntax.

  10. Elle Marr says:

    What a fun and *active* way to explain the passive voice! Thank you for sharing. I will definitely remember zombies and dinosaurs do things very actively, from now on.

  11. admin says:

    I think I’ll use the dinosaurs more than the zombies. Less brain eating.

  12. admin says:

    At some online workshop (long ago), the instructor said we should backend our sentences. Put the words or the phrase with the most punch at the end of the sentence.
    Thanks for reminding me.

  13. admin says:

    Passive voice is helpful, but it can also trap us into lazy writing.
    Thanks for stopping by!

  14. admin says:

    I much prefer dragons over zombies.

  15. Anna says:

    Sorry I’m late. My posting dates landed on different days. Anyhooo… love the advice about catching the passive sentence. Sometimes I do it on purpose… leave it in I mean. But there have been times one slipped by on me when it wasn’t welcome. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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