5 July 2019

How To Use Passive And Active Voice

By Vix
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Among its many helpful features, Yoast’s SEO plugin highlights passive voice in your blog posts. But what the hell does that mean and why should you aim to be more active anyway?

passive active voice

To understand, it’s best to take a step back and look at basic sentence structure. At its core, a sentence contains a something (subject) carrying out an action (verb). 

In active voice, the emphasis is on the subject performing the action. 

I painted the dining room. 

Yeost recommends writing in active voice. 

My dog loves walks in the park

In passive voice, the action happens to the subject. 

If we take the three examples above, this is how they’d be framed in passive voice. 

The dining room was painted by me

It is recommended by Yoast that passive voice be avoided.

Walks in the park are loved by my dog.

In these examples you can see that passive voice tends to be a little wordy, sometimes unnecessarily so. Active voice is short and direct, which is why it’s preferred in news reporting and SEO-optimised content. 

There is a time and place for both active and passive voice. At times, active voice can feel impersonal and blunt. There are also situations where the subject and action should be emphasised in passive voice. For example: 

A passage from Anne of Green Gables was read at the wedding ceremony

In this instance, the act of reading the passage is more important than who did the reading (which isn’t even included in the sentence). 

Even looking at the painting example above, either voice could suit your blog depending on the context. If you’ve got a post about styling your dining space, the passive sentence emphasising the room may work better. 

If you?re using Yoast to identify passive voice in your writing remember it is an automated system. If you’ve got lots of chunks of highlighted text when you look back over your post, take it as a guide for possible changes and don’t panic.

I’ve worked as a journalist for five years and I still get lots of passive voice warnings in Yoast. I probably end up editing half of what’s highlighted to be more active, but there are some sentences I know work better in their original form.

As much as we want to optimise for SEO, we also want to create a blog which feels personal and human so don’t feel like you need to eliminate every hint of passive voice from your work. Just know when there’s a shorter, more direct way to get the message across. 

Written by Michelle Gately of the Unfinished Bookshelf, read more of her work here.

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