Too much business writing uses passive verbs. Take a lesson from journalism and liven up your copy with the active voice.
The theory can be hard to grasp, but you will know an active sentence when you see one. And it’s usually simple to make passive sentences active.
Here’s the grammar background. When a sentence is constructed in the following order, the verb — and the sentence — is active:
- Subject (the person or thing doing the action)
- Verb (the action)
- Object (the person or thing to which the action is done)
It’s best explained with an example.
The course was organised by the HR department.
This is a passive sentence, in which the subject is placed after the verb.
The active version is:
The HR department organised the course.
Passive verbs generally include part of the verb ‘to be’ (words such as was, is, were, have/has been) together with a past participle (in this example, ‘organised’).
Here’s another example, to illustrate how the subject need not necessarily be a person:
The answer was hidden in the question. (passive)
The question hid the answer. (active)
Of course, you may want to be deliberately passive. If you’re chasing an invoice, it might be more diplomatic to suggest:
I would be grateful if the money could be credited to my account.
I would be grateful you could give me my money.