Authors Answer 133 – The Passive Voice

I Read Encyclopedias for Fun

The passive voice is something authors are often told not to use. But what exactly is the passive voice? Here’s a simple example.

Passive voice: The door was opened by John.

Active voice: John opened the door.

When you look at the two sentences, the active voice seems more dynamic. There’s actual movement. The passive voice is talking more about the door rather than John. In active, someone does something. For passive, something is done to something by someone or something. But is it something we should avoid using? Obviously, it shouldn’t be used when action is the focus of a scene. This week, we talk about the passive voice.

Question 133 – Do you find it difficult not to use passive voice? What advice would you give to writers who have this difficulty?

Elizabeth Rhodes

I do slip into it sometimes for reasons I can’t explain. I suppose for…

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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3 Responses to Authors Answer 133 – The Passive Voice

  1. I use passive voice, on purpose, for business writing all the time. I am purposely not assigning blame, particularly when that blame falls squarely on a VP’s shoulders. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Passive voice is actually preferred (by academics, not zombies) in things such as scientific papers, because the paper is about the science, not the person who does it: “The samples will be analyzed and compared” rather than “I will analyze and compare the samples.” It makes sense that passive voice would be used in some business writing, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The passive voice has a vital role to play in communication:
    *It places emphasis on the thing taking the action (“John F. Kennedy was assasinated.”)
    *It depersonalizes content. (The malfunction was caused by a miscalculation.”)
    *It softens the blow of difficult news. (“The plant closing will cause layoffs.”)
    It is the indiscriminate, improper, overuse of the passive voice to “sound smart” that I object to. It is sloppy communication, especially in business. You can deflect blame without resorting to the passive voice:
    “The miscommunication delayed delivery of supplies.” vs. “The supplies were delayed because of miscommunication.”

    Liked by 1 person

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