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Wednesday, May. 9, 2007 at 8:53 am

Activate Your Verbs

By The Grok
May 9th, 2007

getactive.jpgActive and passive are verb voices. Active voice emphasizes the doer, the agent of the activity:

Sylvester ate Tweety.

The passive voice shifts the focus of a sentence away from the doer. The emphasis in the passive voice is always on what is happening, not who is doing it. Sometimes the passive sentence mentions the agent, sometimes not, but there is always an implicit or explicit “by whom”:

Tweety was eaten. (by whom is implied)

Tweety was eaten by Sylvester. (by whom is Sylvester)

Passive constructions aren’t always immediately obvious:

Built Ram Tough. (by whom?)

Designed to be the best umbrella you’ll every buy. (by whom?)

You should be taken to the hospital. (by whom)

Passive voice has its uses, but in copy that is meant to persuade, motivate, sound accountable and credible; well, nothing beats the active construction.

So, here are six sentences. Identify if the sentence is written in the active or passive voice. Then rewrite it in the opposite voice.

  1. This credit card receipt should be sent to someone other than the person named on the card.
  2. The technician should change the air purifier’s filter after approximately 50 hours of use.
  3. The first available specialist will contact you via email or by telephone within one business day to quickly provide a solution to your request.
  4. Your billing address has been corrected by our Records Administration staff.
  5. I apologize for the frustrations you recently experienced with WorldWide Online Member Services.
  6. A hydraulic system that is both tough and intelligent, designed to respond to the slightest operator command.

You’ll find the answers below:

—————-
Oh, come on, do you really want the answers that easily?

Try a couple of them, at least.

—————-

ANSWERS

1. This credit card receipt should be sent to someone other than the person named on the card.

a. This sentence is in the passive voice

b. Writing it in active voice: Send this credit card receipt to someone other than the cardholder.

2. The technician should change the air purifier’s filter after approximately 50 hours of use.

a. This sentence is in the active voice

b. Writing it in passive voice: The air purifier’s filter should be changed by the technician after approximately 50 hours of use.

3. The first available specialist will contact you via email or by telephone within one business day to quickly provide a solution to your request.

a. This sentence is in the active voice

b. Writing it in passive voice: To quickly provide a solution to your request, you will be contacted via email or by telephone by the first available specialist within one business day.

4. Your billing address has been corrected by our Records Administration staff.

a. This sentence is in the passive voice

b. Writing it in passive voice: Our Records Administration staff have corrected your billing address.

5. I apologize for the frustrations you recently experienced with WorldWide Online Member Services.

a. This sentence is in the active voice

b. Writing it in passive voice: I apologize for the frustrations experienced by you recently with WorldWide Online Member Services.

6. A hydraulic system that is both tough and intelligent, designed to respond to the slightest operator command.

a. This sentence fragment is in the passive voice

b. Writing it in the active voice: We design a hydraulic system that is both tough and intelligent, and responds to the slightest operator command.

Edit some of your copy for active voice and activate your conversion rate as well. Do an A/B test. Tell us your results.

Add Your Comments

Comments (40)

  1. [...] Activate Your Verbs [...]

  2. My Dad is an english professor. You’re taking me back to my childhood when he’d actually have me grade some of the papers for his more remedial classes! Imagine if his students had known…

  3. Great exercise :)

    However, there’s a minor problem with your solution to 3.b.:

    “Writing it in passive voice: To quickly provide a solution to your request, you will be contacted via email or by telephone by the first available specialist within one business day.”

    Stated thusly, the introductory phrase with the implied subordinator of purpose “(In order) to quickly provide a solution to your request” is confusing– the subject usually follows it, but the reader (“you”) is not going to provide a solution to his own request.

    I’d recommend dropping the phrase altogether, for clarity (or relegating it to a separate sentence).

    You will be contacted via email or by telephone by the first available specialist within one business day.

    That’s what happens when you change subjects in a sentence with a subordinator of purpose. “In order to” phrases usually refer to why subject A does action B. When you change subject A, and make the action passive, the phrase breaks down.

    Ach, the hazards of constructing copy! ;)

    Dig your articles, btw– I read them as time allows via RSS on my LJ FP.

  4. Ldy,

    Glad to see you’re enjoying the Grok! Just a point of clarification, though… We’re not recommending people use the passive voice example. So, it’s not a solution we’re providing; rather, it’s an example of what NOT to do.

    For the examples in passive voice, we’re providing an active voice solution. For the examples already in the active voice, we’re showing count-examples. I see how the layout makes it a bit confusing, though.

    (By the way, your explanation of why that sentence is broken was much more elegant and thorough than our framing it only in terms of passive/active voice. Just trying to keep it simple!)

    -Robert
    Blog Ediot ;)

  5. i have several links on my web site for people to listen to audio samples. presently all the links start by saying ‘Listen to…audio sample 1′, etc….

    should i change the ‘Listen to’ to something else? i am not sure if that is active or passive? if i need to change it, what to???

    thanks for your input……….

  6. Rewrite the sentences in passive voice.

    answer send in my email addres:wahhab4320@yahoo.com

    1. Kerrie has paid the bill.
    2. I have eaten a hamburger.
    3. We have cycled five miles.
    4. I have opened the present.
    5. They have not read the book.
    6. You have not sent the parcel.
    7. We have not agreed to this issue.
    8. They have not caught the thieves.
    9. Has she phoned him?
    10. Have they noticed us?

  7. [...] "Activate Your Verbs" — [...]

  8. passive and active? must be sent by ” “– is passive.

    I sent is active

  9. Call to Action is a must read for our new hires

  10. [...] fast-moving feeling in your reader, punctuate intentionally, and impart motion through the use of action verbs and short, rolling words. If you want to convey a relaxed feeling, a sense of rest or of moodiness, [...]

  11. [...] how, a while back, we talked about the benefits of using active verbs in your copy (Think Active!)? You must have got some benefit from that discussion – it’s one of my most popular articles [...]

  12. [...] how, a while back, we talked about the benefits of using active verbs in your copy (Think Active!)? You must have got some benefit from that discussion – it’s one of my most popular articles [...]

  13. [...] copy can always be improved by pumping up your verbs and writing in active not passive voice. You can change a couple of setting in Microsoft Word to check for passive voice for [...]

  14. [...] Activate Your Verbs [...]

  15. [...] Activate Your Verbs [...]

  16. [...] Activate Your Verbs [...]

  17. [...] Activate Your Verbs [...]

  18. [...] Activate Your Verbs [...]

  19. [...] Activate Your Verbs [...]

  20. [...] Activate Your Verbs [...]

  21. [...] Activate Your Verbs [...]

  22. I want to convert this sentence to the passive (water pollution will deplete many water zones of their oxygen soon )

  23. Its never too late to learn your verbs. Mrs Grundy would agree wholeheartedly.

  24. I agree. Its never too late to learn anything ( including Passive and Active Verbs ) . Thanks a lot. It helped me polish my verb-ology. :)

  25. Its a great grammer tutorial. How many of us can speak the “propah” Queen’s English.

  26. Grammer on the net, learn while you earn. Quite an idea.

  27. Why is it easier to learn english grammer on the net as compared to in the school?

  28. What better way to “activate” your knowledge of english grammer than on the net.

  29. Why cant they teach in a similar format at school? Why must school interfere with our education?

  30. Learn while you earn is a fine maxim here.

  31. And why has it been limited to merely verbs?

  32. Earn as you learn has been updated here to learn too as you earn.

  33. I like it. Though i believe web writing is completely different to what you learn at school.

    Get to the point quicker and make sentences as short as possible.

  34. Yea, it does sometimes sound a bit bossy. Hire a copywriter!

  35. Its amazing how grammar vanishes after 8th grade :) . As the blog suggests activate your verbs, to my astonishment I couldn’t construct most of the sentences in their opposite voice… Clearly the way we talk is not the way we write.

  36. I never let school interfere with my education, but seeing this activating your verbs post, I wondered if I should have.

  37. What better way to improve your grammar than on the net. Why cant they do the same in schools too.

  38. Educational reformers have focused a lot of energy on thinking of ways to identify effective teachers and in turn recruit, retain, compensate, and support them. But what do teachers think of their ideas?

  39. Disagree, I think that the net has a lot to do with the fall in educational standards, the answers are too easy to find! Who hand writes letters these days and needs to construct a sentence in English. Look at the grammar on Facebook and social networking sites, shocking really!

  40. [...] Activate Your Verbs59 [...]

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