How NOT To Write: passive constructions

Why are they called “constructions”?

Because a sentence is something you build, right?  You assemble it with words.  And those words can be active or passive.  But they should be active.  What’s the difference?  This:

PASSIVE:  Mistakes were made by me.
ACTIVE:  I made mistakes.

PASSIVE:  A good time was had by all.
ACTIVE:  We all had a good time.

So.  Active sentences are SHORTER and use fewer syllables.  But that’s not all they have going for them.  They are DIRECT. They are simple.  They are easy to follow.  SUBJECT – VERB – OBJECT.  Easy as pie.

EXAMPLE:  “I ran home.”  In an active construction, you literally start at the beginning with the subject: I.  Then you take a step into the motion: ran.  Then you end at the place where the subject ends: home.  Literally, you move through the sentence in the same way that the person running does.  You move with them, both physically across the page and mentally with the words.  And that sympathy between your eyes and your mind helps close the gap between just reading about something and feeling like you’re there.

Now try this:

“Home was run to by me.”

How wonky is that?  You’ve got the beginning at the end, and the end at the beginning, and all sorts of unnecessary words in between.  You’ve got your object where your subject should be, and you’ve got your subject as part of a prepositional phrase!  OY!

Stay simple unless you have a reason to get crazy.  There are a gazillion ways to riff on the standard S-V-O construction, and plenty of cool things to do with form.  I’m all for a syncopated rhythm in writing.  But not with passive voice.  Be strong!   Be active!  Be totally brazen!  But don’t insult your readers by asking them to do acrobatics across the page.