A Passive Verb to Change

I was reviewing an email today for our Email Intelligence online class, when I came across a good example of a passive verb to change. Here is the context: 

The writer, whom I will call Kelly, is emailing managers to ask them to find volunteers for a project. She instructs the managers:

  • Find out who would like to volunteer.
  • Respond to me by Thursday, April 22, with the names of the volunteers.
  • If no one volunteers, someone will need to be appointed.

Do you recognize where the passive verb sneaked in?

In the third bullet point, Kelly has not stated who will appoint someone. Should the managers appoint someone? Probably. But Kelly has not asked the managers to do so. She has only said that it needs to be done.

Here's how Kelly can revise that step:

  • If no one volunteers, please appoint someone. 

The current (March-April) version of my free e-newsletter, Better Writing at Work, covers passive verbs in detail with lots of examples. If you haven't read it, subscribe now before the April-May version replaces it next week.

I write about passive verbs often. To see my other posts, just type passive verbs in the search box (upper right). 

If you have examples of passive verbs to share, please do. I welcome your input!

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

3 comments on “A Passive Verb to Change”

  • But how will they know if no-one is appointed?

    Her second point asks them to reply to Kelly only, so none of the managers would know if they should appoint someone or not.

    I think this is perhaps less clear than the original.

  • Hi Lynn, I stopped by again – thanks for the reply.

    The ambiguity I was referring to was actually in the explanation – it wasn’t clear in your set-up that managers would be emailed individually. The phrase ‘She instructs the managers’ suggests the contrary. In that case, the re-write itself is perfectly fine – ignore me!

    (Also, please do correct me if re-write shouldn’t be hyphenated – I’m sure you have quite firm (and correct) views on the matter!)

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