Passive Voice Commit Messages

I saw a suggestion to use Subject-First Commit Messages to make it easier to scan the log. I switched over to this about two weeks ago and like it.

When you write commit messages this way, they tend to result in passive voice sentences like “Project cleared from project prompt dialog when closed” and “Title added to date prompts”. Many style books suggest that you not use the passive voice, which is then repeated as a rule. But, the passive voice is useful, and is often used by the best writers (go check your favorite). Even those style books (like Strunk and White) give exceptions.

When writing a sentence, it’s important to control the subject. In most commit messages, the implicit subject is the programmer. For example, in “Added title to date prompts”, the subject “I” is dropped. Since we know that the programmer is making the commits, we don’t need to constantly repeat it. It’s better to pick the most important noun in the sentence and make that the subject, and to do that (in English) you have to use the passive voice.

I talked about this in Write While True Episode 37: The Passive Voice Was Used. If you want to see a thorough take-down of anti-Passive Voice zealots, watch Larry McEnerney analyses the Gettysburg Address, which I discuss in the podcast episode.