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Jan 26 2010   2:26PM GMT

Passive voice vs. active voice

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which sentence is better?
a. The developers adopted a scrum model to speed up the process.
b. A scrum model was adopted to speed up the development process.

Answer: b.

Explanation:

Although the active voice is usually preferable, the passive voice is better in some sentences because it emphasizes the object (the thing being acted upon) rather than the subject (the thing performing the act). If your main focus is the object, use the passive voice to make that object — in this case, the scrum model — dominant in the sentence.

The University of Minnesota’s Writing Center explains appropriate use of both active and passive voices.

Read on below for Stevegs’ input to this post:

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2  Comments on this Post

 
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  • Stevegs
    Ivy, I realize brevity is the soul of wit, but in this case, I think that the answer is incomplete. The two sentences are not logically equivalent, because (a) has an agent (developers) whereas (b) has no agent. Consequently the answer is NOT (b), but 'It depends'. The logic for using (b) is solid, but the answer expresses a bias that is NOT justified by the initial question. No criteria for 'better' is defined in the problem statement. Even in the context of discussing 'scrum' as a non-rugby term (my older daughter plays rugby, btw), it is not at all obvious from the question what objective the sentence is intended to satisfy. Given the references to Kanban in the 'burn down chart' word of the day, in addition to scrum, the whole question appears to come out of left field. Had 'b' been worded to read 'A scrum model was adopted by the developers to speed up their process.' Then your illustration would have been more even-handed. Steve *********************************** Steve, Thanks for the good input! Ivy
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  • Costas
    Actually, I'd prefer a third option : "To speed up the process, the developers adopted a scrum model." It establishes a motive for the action, clarifies who initiated it and leads the reader/listener to the object. At that point, the writer may wish to elaborate on what the heck a "scrum model" is. ****************************************************** Hi Costas -- Thanks for stopping by. No question, your sentence is an improvement. Although the sentences were chosen to illustrate a valid use of the passive voice, I probably could have found better examples. The point was that -- at least according to theory -- putting the subject first emphasizes the subject and putting the object first emphasizes the object. The sentences for the grammar question are often chosen to go with our Word of the Day newsletter. This one went out in a definition for SCRUM. I should make a practice of linking terms to our definitions of them online. Best, Ivy
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