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Grammar Repair Shop: Passive resistance

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in Workplace Communication

People tend to overuse the passive voice because they think it's more professional. In truth, readers prefer active sentences for their more direct and engaging tone.

How can you spot a passive sentence? Three telltale signs:

1. Something happens to the subject of the sentence.
Example: "The report was written last week."

2. It contains a form of to be (is, was, were, etc.) as a helping verb. Example: "A seminar is being held."

3. You see a "by" phrase toward the end of the sentence. If you don't see one, try adding "by Bill" at the end. If the sentence still makes sense, it's probably passive. Example: "A seminar is being held [by Bill]."

Fix passive sentences by changing the word order to fit a "Who does what?" pattern.

Passive: "Her proposal ought to be given our serious consideration."

Active: "We (Who) should consider (does what?) her proposal seriously."

Passive: "All the lights should be turned off before leaving."

Active: "Turn off all the lights before you leave." Note: In this case, the unwritten but understood "You" is the "Who."

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