Passive Voice: Myths and Facts

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Passive Voice:  Myth vs. Fact article by Kelly Hartigan of XterraWeb

Many people have been taught, or convinced, that passive voice should never be used and active voice should always be used. Some people have gone so far as to say there is a "rule" that using passive voice is wrong.

As with many "rules" about writing, this is another one that began as a good general principle and over time morphed into an inflexible rule. The primary underlying reason behind this is that active voice is typically preferred to passive voice as it is often stronger.

Overuse of passive construction is a secondary reason for the "rule." Passive voice is frequently seen by those who are trying to sound formal or academic. It is commonly seen in business, government, and academic writings. It is also used as a way of communicating events and actions without taking or placing blame.

Although active voice is stronger, there are some situations where passive voice is the better choice. Before we can choose when to use active voice and passive voice, we need to understand the difference between the two.

  • Passive Voice Defined
  • Passive voice is more than using "to be" (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) verbs.
  • Passive construction occurs when the object of an action is made into the subject of a sentence.
    • In the active voice, the subject of a verb acts.
      Example: Mark stole the bike.
    • In passive voice, the subject is acted upon.
      Example: The bike was stolen by Mark.
  • When Is Passive Voice Useful?
  • When it’s irrelevant who performed the action or your readers don’t need to know who is responsible for the action.
    Example: John had been left on the steps of the orphanage fifteen years ago.
  • When you don’t want to acknowledge responsibility.
    Example: The kitchen had been destroyed.
  • To emphasize an object.
    Example: The red car (not the blue one) was hit by the snowplow.
  • To de-emphasize an unknown subject or actor.
    Example: Two dozen cars have been broken into this week.
  • For more formal writing in the third person.
    Example: It is suggested that …

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5 comments

guilty of this on occasion

[…] Passive Voice. Myths & Facts. What is passive voice? Identify passive voice & know when to use it. Passive voice or passive construction vs. active voice.  […]

[…] To learn more about passive voice, check out this article: Passive Voice: Myth vs. Fact […]

Good read and reminder!! I use passive voice sometimes!!

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