Active or Passive Voice? Words Matter!

A few days ago a terrible tragedy took place in Plymouth, England. The author, Joanne Harris (Chocolat), took to Twitter to voice her concern about the way this was reported in some news outlets.

Many, it seems, reported the story along the lines of: Six people died in a shooting in Plymouth. Perfectly accurate, and makes the people killed the subject of the sentence. But there is an inbuilt sense of detachment from the true horror – it could almost be inferred that the fatal shooting, for some, was accidental.

In other instances, there was reporting using a headline like: Six people killed by a shooter in Plymouth. Again the six people killed are the subject. But, by using the passive voice, the reporting has already become vague about the actual event and tells us nothing about the perpetrator.

Much better, she says to report: A man shot six people in Plymouth Here we have a sense of immediacy. By using the active voice, a writer is able to convey the full horror of the event in simple. direct, words. And give the additional fact that the killer was a man. As a result, and using fewer words, the sentence is both more informative and more shocking.

As Harris said at the end of her Tweet thread: Words (and how we use them) matters.

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