Using zombies to spot the passive voice

Writers are generally encouraged to avoid the passive voice because … well, it’s passive. Take sentences like:

  • My car was stolen yesterday.
  • The meeting was called off.
  • The window was broken by Barry.

They’re all a bit flat (passive). Now consider some more active alternatives:

  • Yesterday, someone stole my car.
  • They called off the meeting.
  • Barry broke the window.

I won’t get into the ins and out of the passive voice, (this article summarises it very nicely) but I will pass along a tip from the legendary copy editor Benjamin Dreyer:

“If you can append ‘by zombies’ to the end of a sentence, you’ve indeed written a sentence in the passive voice.”

Okay, if there’s already a ‘by’ on the end of the sentence you’ll need to replace it with ‘zombies’, but whether it was them or Barry who broke that window, it’s still passive.

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