Yesterday, I was reading an article in a national writers’ magazine in which an author discussed his editing strategies. He recommended that writers do a global search for “was” because this would help find incidents of passive voice. Then, he gave this example, “He was taller than me.” The author said this needed to be edited because it was written in passive voice…
Now the sentence may need to be rewritten. But it’s NOT passive voice.
So here’s a quick tutorial on passive voice.
In passive voice, the object of an action is the subject of a sentence.
For example: The ball was thrown.
(The ball did not do the throwing, so it’s passive voice.)
In the example the author gave, the verb is intransitive (which means there is no transfer of action), and it shows a state of being.
If you aren’t sure whether something is passive voice, just apply the “zombie test.”
Attach “by zombies” after the verb and if it makes sense, it’s passive voice. And you’ll need to rewrite the sentence. Here are some examples:
The ball was thrown by zombies. (Makes sense. Passive voice.) Change the sentence to active voice. The zombies threw the ball.
He was taller by zombies. (Doesn’t make sense. Not passive voice.)
N.B. I don’t know who originally came up with the “zombie test,” but it helps kids remember.