Action or passion?

Michael DormandyWriting

Are you always moving, planning and advancing your agenda – or do you lie back and let other things guide you? Are you active or passive? We need to know when to be active and when to be passive. And not just in life, but also in writing.

Forgive the grammar lesson, but an active sentence is when the subject (normally the first noun) is the person who does the verb. For example, the sentence, “the boy breaks the window,” is active, because the boy is the subject of the sentence and he does the breaking. A passive sentence is the other way around: the subject of the sentence passively receives the action of the verb. A passive version of the previous example is “the window was broken by the boy.” Now, the window is the subject, but it’s not doing the breaking, it’s being broken.

Every sentence should be active, unless there is a good reason to make it passive. Active sentences are more engaging, easier to read and tell the reader that your company is doing things that make a difference to customers and stake-holders.

Here’s some passive-heavy business writing:

In our unique refinement process, a variety of specifically developed chemicals are used so that the materials are refined to a high standard. Our customers’ final products have been significantly enhanced by our refined materials and our company has been awarded a certificate of outstanding achievement by industrial regulators.

That is dry, dull and difficult to understand – because every sentence is passive.

Here’s the active version:

We use specifically developed chemicals to refine our materials to a high-standard. Our refined materials enhance our customers’ final products significantly and we have even won a certificate of outstanding achievement from the industrial regulators.

See the difference? Active sentences say what you can do. Passive sentences say that you wait for someone else to do it. Few successful businesspeople live passive lives. Few write passive sentences. Don’t be a passive lay-about, get active!

About the Author

Michael Dormandy

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Michael grew up in London and studied Classics and later Theology at Oxford University. He has been Head of Classics at Ashford School, Kent, and has several published books. He enjoys reading and walking and thinks life is always better with a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.