Active Voice Versus Passive Voice

A lot of you have asked me to explain passive voice and how to avoid it.

Mignon Fogarty,
July 22, 2010
Episode #232

Page 4 of 4

Did Strunk & White Get Passive Voice Wrong?

Finally, I have to include a note about Strunk & White’s treatment of passive voice. In their classic book, The Elements of Style, three of their four examples of passive voice aren’t actually passive voice sentences. I’ve included two links below that explain the problems, but if you rely on The Elements of Style, as so many people do, be aware that this is a problem with that book.

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
English Passive Voice (Wikipedia) 


A quick congratulations to two Quick and Dirty Tips podcasts who are reaching a milestone. The Nutrition Diva and The Public Speaker are each releasing their 100th podcast episode this week. If you aren’t already subscribed to their shows, check them out. You can learn one hundred ways to eat better and one hundred ways to communicate more persuasively.

You can also always find more great Grammar Girl articles in the archives.

Web Bonus: Watson & Crick

Watson and Crick's famous paper about the discovery of the structure of DNA, written in 1953, contains both active and passive sentences;

We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A.). (active)

We have made the usual chemical assumptions, namely, that each chain consists of phosphate diester groups joining beta-D-deoxyribofuranose residues with 3',5' linkages. (active)

If it is assumed that the bases only occur in the structure in the most plausible tautomeric forms (that is, with the keto rather than the enol configurations) it is found that only specific pairs of bases can bond together. (passive)

It has been found experimentally that the ratio of the amounts of adenine to thymine, and the ratio of guanine to cytosine, are always very close to unity for deoxyribose nucleic acid. (passive)


1. "Writing in the Sciences," The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/sciences.html (accessed July 23, 2010)

Pencil and note paper from Pixabay


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