English Grammar Review
Sentences and Choices

Choose Narrative

Active voice is better than passive voice. So say the grammar books. But it isn't really a rule of grammar. It's a suggestion for an effective writing style.

The reason active voice is better is that it is closer to narrative. We communicate through stories. Every sentence we write is a micro-story. We are always talking about an actor and an action.

The following four sentences demonstrate a gradual change from passive voice to active voice:

It was decided that employees in the Havana office can go home early.

It was decided by our manager that employees in the Havana office can go home early.
[actor present]

Our manager decided that employees in the Havana office can go home early.
[actor acting]

Mr. Ernesto decided employees in the Havana office can go home early.
[actor named]

Those who have a natural inclination to write in passive voice in the workplace should develop a new habit for writing sentences:

There are three ways to change passive voice to active voice:

(1) Transpose the subject.

Ivan was asked by Yaimara.

Yaimara asked Ivan.
[the real actor]

(2) Extract the subject.

In the database the job was listed.

The database listed the job.
[the real actor]

(3) Supply the subject.

It was decided that Ernesto must go.

We decided that Ernesto must go.
[the real actor]

Sometimes we have legitimate reasons for actors not being present.

For example, passive voice is the preferred way to go in certain real-world situations:

The actor is unimportant:

The letter to the Santa Clara office was mailed.

The actor is confidential:

Those cigars were destroyed accidentally.

To maintain flow:

[paragraph 1 ends:] ... These activities create a corrupted file.

[paragraph 2 begins:] Corrupted files are isolated by network administrators ...

Lesson: Choose Narrative
Module: Sentences and Choices
Course: English Grammar Review