Identifying and Eliminating Passive Voice

“The donut was eaten.”

Notice how we can’t tell who ate the donut. That’s called passive voice.

Being clear about who is doing what and when (the 3 components of a task) is critical for getting things done. Direct, clear and concise communication is essential in the professional world.

It’s imperative to ensure that your writing is as understandable to your readers as it is to you. Just because it makes sense to you doesn’t guarantee others will interpret it the same way. Most people never learn to write clearly.

How can you recognize passive voice? When people use passive voice, they omit the “doer.”

This is often subconscious, but the effect is the same—it becomes harder to figure out what’s happening and who is responsible. The result of using passive voice is a message with unclear action.

Importance of Eliminating Passive Voice in Professional Environments

Remember, every task and action must have a clear owner. Compare “I moved this” with “This was moved,” or “Dennis and I are recording” versus “Recording is happening.”

It is a little tough to catch it all the time, but in a business setting, we must eliminate all usage of passive voice– especially when coordinating a project or speaking with a client. Every action must have a clear owner that comes first, and each project needs someone responsible for completing a task- adhering to the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) model.

Thinking in passive voice significantly reduces your effectiveness and accountability. It’s more serious than mixing up “your” with “you’re” or using “ums” in speech. Passive voice strips actions of ownership, making it difficult to trace who did what, hence leading to confusion.

Here are a few real-world examples we’ve picked from emails, with corrections:

1. “Call has already been booked.” vs. “I booked the call, it’s Thursday at 10.”

Who booked the call? I booked the call.

 2. “This email is to confirm that this account is at inbox zero.” vs. “This is Bob confirming that this account is at inbox zero.”

Who sent this email? Bob sent the email.

 3. “More updates to come as these get closed out.” vs. “I will provide more updates as these get closed out.”

Who should we expect updates from? I will send them.

 4. “This thread was moved here” vs. “I moved the thread to here.”

Who moved the thread? I did.

This is less about being picky with grammatical rules and more about being action-oriented.

Passive voice often comes from a mindset of unaccountability, where it’s someone else’s fault, and we don’t step up as owners of our actions.

Do you now see how using direct language ensures everyone is on the same page?

Dennis Yu
Dennis Yu
Dennis Yu is co-author of the #1 best-selling book on Amazon in social media, The Definitive Guide to TikTok Ads.  He has spent a billion dollars on Facebook ads across his agencies and agencies he advises. Mr. Yu is the "million jobs" guy-- on a mission to create one million jobs via hands-on social media training, partnering with universities and professional organizations.You can find him quoted in major publications and on television such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR, and LA Times. Clients have included Nike, Red Bull, the Golden State Warriors, Ashley Furniture, Quiznos-- down to local service businesses like real estate agents and dentists. He's spoken at over 750 conferences in 20 countries, having flown over 6 million miles in the last 30 years to train up young adults and business owners. He speaks for free as long as the organization believes in the job-creation mission and covers business class travel.You can find him hiking tall mountains, eating chicken wings, and taking Kaqun oxygen baths-- likely in a city near you.