Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Passive Voice and Zombies

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.


  1. Nice! Now that's an epic way to help new writers identify passive voice. Sharing!

    1. Thanks, Crystal! I'm glad it helped. I'm actually thinking of doing this kind of making-grammar-fun stuff on a semi-regular basis. I do tons of copy editing and tend to see the same types of mistakes over and over again. Usually, the rules aren't that complicated, and I'd really like to help writers/students learn them. And have fun.

  2. Ha! Love it. Easy to remember and apply. :) If it works for kids, it's probably just what I need. LOL

    Think this is my first time at your blog--nice to meet you, C.M.! :)

  3. Glad you liked it!

    Nice to meet you too.

  4. I facepalmed at the author saying it was passive voice.

    :) A friend brought up the zombie test at a critique group meeting. It bled into my thoughts the following Sunday at church when the song lyrics went "His perfect love could not be overcome" and the my mind tacked on "by zombies." Hmmm.

    1. Oh my goodness, you gave me such a laugh! Thanks. (That kind of thing sometimes happens to me in church too. :)

  5. What a great test to use! It's also fun. I love that it's something kids could easily remember too :D Jaclyn @ JC's Book Haven.

  6. That's a good way for kids to identify passive voice. Works for me too :)