Passive Voice Errors

Passive voice is a tricky beast on the SAT. Let us help you navigate the muddy waters. In the comments, tell us what you would like us to add.

What’s wrong with these sentences?

Many informative posts have been recorded by Craig.

Business English HQ was created by Craig and Frank in 2012.

BEHQ’s new Guide to Business Writing will soon be published.

A trick question! There is nothing grammatically wrong with these three sentences. The problem has to do with style – ineffectively using the passive voice. The sentences are weak and use more words than they need to.

What do we mean by the passive voice? It is a form in which the subject of the verb receives the action. Notice that with the passive voice, we use the auxiliary “be” with the past participle of the verb – “recorded,” “created,” and “published.”

In the three examples, the auxiliary takes on different forms – “have been,” “was,” and “will be,” depending on the tense we use.

For clearer, more concise and direct writing, we should use the active voice. In this form, the subject performs the action.

It would be more effective to write:

1. Craig has recorded many informative posts.

2. Craig and Frank created Business English HQ in 2012.  

3. BEHQ will soon publish its new Guide to Business Writing.

The passive voice, nevertheless, has an important place in some instances in business writing. I can think of four of them.

1. When the agent performing the action is too insignificant or evident to mention and is less important than the object of the action.

Example: Whenever I send a gmail message to Craig, Google posts the sentence: “Your message has been sent.”

2. When the agent doing the action is unknown.

Example: The launch of Business was well received.

3. When you want to emphasize either the doer of the action or the action done by putting that element at the end of sentence – giving it emphasis.

Example: A doctoral thesis was written by Frank.

Example: Frank and Craig can’t access their website because WordPress is being updated.

4. When you want to avoid excessive language or be low key.

Example: Both Frank and Craig agree that good work has been done on the website.

Now you try it. Transform each of the following verbs into the opposite voice.

1. At their last meeting, Craig and Frank agreed to publish more posts.

2. The publication date of the new BEHQ Guide to Writing was changed.

3. In a recent post, Craig explained how to avoid awkward sentences.

4. The final draft of the BEHQ ebook is just being completed by Frank.

1. At their last meeting, it was agreed to publish more posts.

2. BEHQ changed the publication date of the new BEHQ Guide to Writing.

3. In a recent post, it was explained how to avoid awkward sentences.

4. Frank is just completing the final draft of the BEHQ ebook.

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