Six words to avoid

Alternative Ways to Write Passive Sentences

Linda Mulcahy
March 7, 2019

Passive sentences tend to be unclear, wordy, and weak (pretty much the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve in copywriting). So what are some alternative ways to write passive sentences?

First, let’s make sure we understand the difference between active and passive sentences (also known as active and passive voice).

In the active voice, the subject performs the action.

  • I bought the groceries.
  • You mowed the lawn.
  • She walked the dog.  

In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon.

  • The groceries were bought by me.
  • The lawn was mowed by you.
  • The dog was walked by her.

The sentences contain the same information, but the active sentences are clearer and more concise. The focus is on the person doing the action. Readers find active sentences more interesting and logical, and they’re more likely to keep reading.  

Tips for Alternative Ways to Write Passive Sentences

For livelier and stronger writing, strive for active sentences. Here are two simple tips with examples for alternative ways to write passive sentences.

Simple Tip #1: Start your sentences with who or what is performing the action

Ask yourself who or what is performing the action [or verb]. Then rewrite the sentence to put that subject at the beginning of the sentence.

Example: The app was downloaded by more than 300 customers on the first day of release.

The app is not doing anything. It is having something done to it. So who is actually doing the action? The 300-plus customers. Let’s rewrite to put them at the beginning of the sentence.

Alternative: More than 300 customers downloaded the app on the first day of release.

More examples:

  • Passive: Your 30-minute session will be led by Ricardo. Alternative: Ricardo will lead your 30-minute session.  
  • Passive: Your email was answered this morning by me. Alternative: I answered your email this morning.
  • Passive: Your copy will be perfected by skilled proofreaders before we publish it.Alternative: Skilled proofreaders will perfect your copy before we publish it.  
  • Passive: Improvements to the original design were made by the research team.Alternative: The research team improved the original design.     
  • Passive: A spot will be guaranteed if you call today.      Alternative: Call today for a guaranteed spot. (In this case, the subject of “you” is implied.)

Simple Tip #2: Don’t start your sentences with “It is” or “There are”

Technically, these are called expletive constructions. The dummy subjects of “it” and “there” don’t offer the reader any information; they just clutter up a sentence. The solution is to rewrite with real subjects at the beginning, just like we did in Simple Tip #1.    

Example: There are hundreds of people on the waiting list.

The opening word “There” is a waste of space and time. It serves no purpose for the reader. Let’s delete it and rewrite the sentence with the subject at the beginning.  

Alternative: Hundreds of people are on the waiting list.

More examples:

  • Passive: It is going to be brutally hot this summer.                          
    • Alternative: This summer is going to be brutally hot.
  • Passive: There are nearly 500 subscribers who responded to our email.
    • Alternative: Nearly 500 subscribers responded to our email.
  • Passive: It is clear that donors appreciate transparency.   ​​​​​​​ 
    • Alternative: Donors appreciate transparency.
  • Passive: There is a lot of confusion surrounding the benefits of CBD oil.               
    • Alternative: Many people are confused about the benefits of CBD oil.
  • Passive: It is important that everyone wash their hands before applying the ointment.      
    • Alternative: Everyone should wash their hands before applying the ointment.
  • Passive: There were many days when I wondered if I would succeed.                        ​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​
    • Alternative: Many days I wondered if I would succeed.

As with all grammar rules, sometimes active voice doesn’t work best. The passive voice can be a wise choice, particularly in legal, scientific, or political settings. But in copywriting, the active voice is far more compelling for your readers.

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