How to know when you’re using active vs passive voice

Lots of us were trying to stay active all pandemic, even though we were stuck at home – but just as importantly, is your writing active or passive?

And why does it matter?

What is active and passive voice?

Active voice means that your voice (the subject of the sentence, usually a noun is at the start, followed by what your subject is doing (the verb), then the object the verb is happening to.

e.g. We (subject) offer (verb) default insurance (object) to eligible members (secondary object).

Passive voice means the object (the thing it’s happening to) is up front. This type of sentence is usually missing its subject (the person doing the thing).

e.g. Default insurance (object) is offered (verb) to eligible members (secondary object).

How do you know if you’re using passive voice?

You can tell if a sentence is missing its subject — and is therefore in passive voice — because you can add “by zombies” to the sentence and it will still make sense.

Image source: Wikipedia

e.g. Default insurance (object) is offered (verb) to eligible members … by zombies.

Why does everyone say you should write in active voice?

Now, here’s why you want to write in active voice whenever possible:

1. Readability. I like it when skimreaders (a.k.a. every busy person ever) can easily understand what I’m writing about. Readers’ brains like simple sentence constructions that are in active voice.

2. Less work for your brain. The active voice construction “subject, verb, object” is the first and most common one taught in English-speaking schools, so it’s harder work for your brain to remove the subject and construct a passive sentence.

3. Reduce risk of RSI. Passive voice sentences are typically much longer, with more words, which means more typing and more repetitive strain.

So save your brain and your wrists from the zombies, and write in active voice.

Common misunderstandings about active voice

One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes writers, reviewers, and even less-educated editors will talk about “active voice” when they actually mean to talk about one of the 12 tenses in English — “present tense”, “future perfect tense”, etc.

Drives me nuts. Everyone thinks they’re a scholar, but they don’t have the degree or the self-education to give them a real foundation.

The difference between voice and tense is that while the voice changes the whole sentence structure, a tense only changes the verb (the doing word) or the adjective that describes that verb.

(More on how to use the tenses in a later post, if you want to get even more word nerdy.)

So if someone says to you, “This sentence needs to be in active voice.” and you can see that the structure is actually correct — subject, verb, object — then that someone is trying to tell you something about the sentence but it has nothing to do with active or passive voice.

You’ll need to ask that person questions to find out what they actually want to change in your sentence.

Image source: by Arnold Zwicky’s Blog

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you share or repost, thanks!

When to use an apostrophe

Today’s tip is how to apostrophate.

Just kidding, that’s not a word.

How to use apostrophes – a few tips.

Image source:

1. Does a person/company/group own something? Use an apostrophe

e.g. We need your driver’s licence as proof of identity.

e.g. We are currently reviewing all customers’ accounts.

e.g. Your team’s efforts should be recognised.

e.g. We won Rainbow Unicorn’s Best Value Award.

e.g. What about James’s report?

Exception: its and your are also words for ownership, but they don’t use apostrophes (compared with it’s and you’re).

You can work out whether you’re writing the exception or whether you need an apostrophe by checking if you can replace the “its” or “your” with a name and apostrophe. If you can, then it’s about ownership.

e.g. The Group has expanded its/your working-from-home capability this year.

>>> This could be replaced with a name and apostrophe, e.g. The Group has expanded Bob’s working-from-home capability this year.

So because the sentence still makes sense after replacing the word, so “its” or “your” would be appropriate.

2. Is it a contraction (two words stuck together and shortened)? Use an apostrophe to glue the words together

Contraction are words that are stuck together and shortened, such as we’ve – a contraction or “we have”.

e.g. At our company, we’ve been looking after members for over 100 years.

It’s = a contraction of “it is”.

So if you can replace “it’s” with “it is”, and the sentence still makes sense, you’re on the right track.

e.g. At our company, it’s all about putting members first.

>>> At our company, it is all about putting members first.

You’re = contraction of “you are”.

e.g. You’re going to need to check your super balance.

3. Is it a plural? No apostrophes

e.g. PDSs, FAQs, MPs, 1980s, he’s in his 50s.

I cringe every time I go to my favourite fish-n-chip shop because the lovely owners’ sign says they have “new special’s every week”. (And yes, we do occasionally chat with them about their sign, but the owners are just too sweet and I always end up hearing all about their grandkids and asking them for advice about my daughter’s toilet training, because y’all know – relationship is more important than grammar.)

4. Is it another type of abbreviation (not a contraction)? No apostrophe

e.g. When we’re referring to legislation, it’s “Cth” not “C’th”.

I think that about covers it (not “cover’s it”), but if you have questions or exceptions you’d like to talk about, please comment!

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you repost, thanks!

When do you need hyphens when writing in Australia?

Why do we hyphenate some words and not others? Is it the death of the hyphen? Not quite yet.

In 2019, some AP Stylebook updates caused an uproar in the editing world – and it’s always funny when writers riot (check out Twitter if you don’t believe me).

The uproar was because the AP editors reduced the number of words they recommend have a hyphen and said the English language changes over time.

After all, we don’t put a hyphen on “e-mail” anymore, do we?

So here’s a few guidelines you can follow – and I stress that they are guidelines, not rules…

HYPHENATED and NON-HYPHENATED is ironic, a meme from Star Wars featured on ME.ME
Image source: Me.Me.

1. Use hyphens for compound words

Where two words make one idea (compound words), and that one idea is an adjective (a describing word), keep your hyphen.

e.g. Many well-known celebrities live in Australia, and their award-winning movies and TV shows provide world-leading entertainment. Hopefully, they don’t earn tax-free income, because everyone needs to pay tax. That’s what my sister-in-law says, anyway, and she works full-time as an in-house music teacher.

2. No hyphens on prefixes

Prefixes like the “dis” in “disadvantage” don’t usually get a hyphen, because they’re not a full word on their own.

3. No hyphens on words in languages other than English

If it’s not English, don’t add a hyphen unless that language has hyphens in their alphabet.

For example, the phrase pro rata is Latin, not English, so even when you’re using it as an adjective, you don’t hyphenate it.

e.g. Good companies should offer pro rata fees, so that if you’re not with the company for the whole year, you don’t pay the full annual fee.

Similarly, taekwon do is Korean, so you shouldn’t really put a hyphen in it, like “taekwon-do”.

4. No hyphens on adverbs

If the words end in “LY” you don’t need the hyphen because the first word in the compound phrase is being used as an adverb.

Phew, we’re getting nerdy now, aren’t we?

e.g. An easily remembered rule does not need a hyphen between easily and remembered.

5. Use hyphens on word clusters or unclear phrases

If the words are a noun or adjective cluster (lots of nouns or adjectives in a row), or not a normal phrase, or the meaning might not be perfectly clear otherwise, keep the hyphen.

e.g. I hyphenate many open-minded philosophies (adjective cluster), but not when it comes to climate change realities (noun cluster, but a normal phrase). Because everyone knows about climate change by now.

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you repost/share, thanks!

Passed vs Past: What’s the difference and how do you remember?

Sooo my love life is located firmly in the past at the moment, so happy Valentine’s day, and let’s move right on to the grammar tips!

How do you know when to use passed and past?

In English we have a lot of “homophones”, words that sound the same but have different meanings or spellings – and this is one of them.

The short explanation is that passed is a verb (a doing word) and past can be a preposition (a place/time word), an adjective (describing word), or even sometimes a noun (a thing/person/place).

Now for the longer explanation…

Passed = past tense of the verb “pass”

e.g. “Yesterday passed so quickly – I don’t know where the day went!”

e.g. “Have you passed the execs that report yet?”

e.g. “I hope we passed our quarterly audit.”

Past = preposition, adjective, or noun


e.g. “It’s past 1 April now, so our rules about default insurance have changed.”

e.g. “I drove past the office but didn’t go in.”


e.g. “Do you have any past reports that I could use as a template?”


e.g. “The past was a simpler time. In the past, we had different rules for who gets default insurance.”

The Past Is Your Secret Weapon - Memebase - Funny Memes
Image source:

How do you remember when to use passed vs past?

Did something actively happen to do the passing? If so, you need the verb passed.

Did nobody do anything? Then you probably need the preposition or adjective past.

Try it out for yourself if you want to – which word/s should go in this example?

This question has been passed/past over in the passed/past, so I wasn’t sure whether I should use a passed/past example or not.

Hopefully you passed/past my little quiz.

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you report/share, thanks!

Affect vs Effect

When do you write affect vs effect?

In general, you should use affect where a verb would go, and effect where a noun would go. First I’ll explain how to remember that, and then give you the long, nerdy explanation of how the rules work…

How do you remember when to use affect vs effect?

Here’s my own trick for remembering the difference – two steps:

  1. A is for action, so you should generally use affect where you need a doing word.
  2. Try checking it with the phrase “cause and effect”. “Cause” ends in an e, so you need the e for “effect”, so you need to use the noun.

e.g. The (cause and) effect of the new rules on the super industry has yet to be seen. = Right

e.g. The (cause and) affect of the new rules on the super industry has yet to be seen. = Wrong

Affect is a verb, a doing word – most of the time

It usually means “to change”.

e.g. The government’s new rules in 2020 affected (changed) when you could withdraw your super.

e.g. Our government’s decision was probably affected (influenced, changed, touched) by the number of people experiencing financial difficulty at the time.


Affect can occasionally be a noun meaning “appearance” or the verb “to pretend or put on an appearance of”.

e.g. The team had a flat affect throughout the long meeting.

e.g. In uni, I affected a Kiwi accent to get attention.

Effect is a noun, an object or subject of a sentence – most of the time

e.g. The new rules were put into effect in a great hurry. Super funds definitely felt the effect of these changes.


Effect can sometimes show up as the verb “to bring about”.

e.g. The government wanted to effect change in the economy.

The cutest affect vs effect meme

Now, you all know how much I do NOT recommend – because it is an American site/app and so many of the “rules” they talk about are wrong for Australian grammar…

But I just loved this meme they made so much I had to share!

Image source:

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you repost or share, thanks!

How do you spell COVID-19 or coronavirus?

I detest this word at the moment, and have for 2 years so far, but today’s grammar tip is important – the correct spelling of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Do you write it coronavirus, covid, or COVID-19?

The correct spelling is coronavirus (no capital letters) or COVID-19 (all capital letters).

Everyone on social media just writes covid – heck, even I do! – but it’s not actually correct.

Now here’s why…

There should be no capital letters for the word coronavirus, because it’s just a common noun used to group several new (“novel”) viruses under one term.

It’s similar to how we use the common nouns “influenza” or “flu” is used to describe several different strains.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 is a proper noun (a name) for a specific virus strain, and it uses maximum capitals because it is an acronym. The same way that SARS was both an acronym and a proper noun (a name).

Want to get even more nerdy?

The species Coronaviridae is the proper noun, and under this species, there are a bunch of coronaviruses that are all single-stranded RNA viruses that have things in common:

  • A “lipid envelope studded with club-shaped projections” – quoting the scientific explanation because I don’t understand it and will not attempt to try! … and
  • The ability to infect birds and mammals.

Want to get EVEN MORE NERDY?

The word coronavirus means “crown virus” or “crown poison” in Latin, after the way that lipid envelope studded with clubs looks a bit like a crown or a garland.

Scientists love our oldest languages, don’t they?

Tom and Jerry meme where Tom the Cat is labelled omicron, and Tom pokes the Jerry mouse with a sword, but Jerry just says I don't care anymore.
Image source:

So what does omicron mean?

In Latin/Greek, omicron just means “little o”. Same way delta is just the name for the “d” in the Greek alphabet.

To quote the experts directly for this one:

“The Greek alphabet has two letters corresponding to our letter ‘o’: omikron (also spelt omicron in English) whose name means ‘little o’ and omega, whose name means ‘big o’. In Greek today they are pronounced the same, but in the ancient language there was a difference between them, probably like that between the sound in the English words ‘hot’ and ’no’,” Roderick Beaton, Emeritus Koraes Professor of Modern Greek & Byzantine History, Language and Literature at King’s College London, said.

Source: Reuters, December 2021.

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you repost, thanks!

How do you know when it’s e.g. vs i.e.?

Is it e.g. or i.e.? What’s the difference?

They are quite similar, but not interchangeable.

i.e. stands for “id est” in Latin, which means “that is”.

You can remember this by saying it looks a bit like “in essence” in English, although this is not actually what the abbreviation stands for.

You use i.e. to clarify the first half of your sentence.

e.g. stands for “exempli gratia” in Latin, which means “for example”.

You can remember this by saying it looks like “example given” in English, although again, this is not actually what the abbreviation stands for.

You use it to provide an example for a statement you make in your sentence.

Bonus note: You don’t need any extra punctuation after them – no extra comma, full stop, or dash (not “e.g.,”).

Meme Creator - Funny Which language Latin Meme Generator at!
Image source:

Example sentences: How to use i.e. and e.g. right

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has had many impacts on the life of the average office worker in Australia, e.g. working from home, seeing family and friends less, and changing childcare arrangements.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is a “novel” virus, i.e. it has not previously emerged in a significant way or been studied.

Do not do this – how to use i.e. and e.g. wrong:

I hate being stuck at home due to things like pandemics, i.e. the coronavirus.

>>> You are stating an example of “things like” so it should be “e.g.”

But being stuck at home gives me time to work on mindfulness and self-care, e.g. my mental health.

>>> In essence, the first half of your sentence was talking about your mental health, so this is a clarification not an example, and should be “i.e.”.

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you repost, thanks!

If vs Whether (Grammar Tips)

How do you know when to use “if” or “whether”?

They are often interchangeable, but the meaning of the sentence changes slightly depending on which word you use. 

“If” is for when something is conditional. 

e.g. “Call me if you’re free after the Teams meeting.” >>> You only need to call me if the condition happens that you are free after the meeting – otherwise, you don’t need to call.

“Whether” is for when something has only two options, A or B, and the sentence needs to make sense if you add the “or not”. 

e.g. “I don’t know whether (or not) I will work late tonight.” >>> There are only two options – late or on time.

Another e.g. “Well, let me know whether (or not) you’re going to be free after the meeting.” >>> Again, there’s only two options – either you’re free afterwards, or you’re not free afterwards.

The remarkable story behind Rudyard Kipling's 'If' - and the swashbuckling  renegade who inspired it | Daily Mail Online
Image – Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”. Source: Daily Mail UK.

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Credit me when you share, thanks! 🙂