Passive Writing

By Michael

Some English teachers actively encourage their students to depend on active voice, while others allow their students to depend on passive voice. What’s the difference, and why is the difference important?

Active voice appears in sentences such as, “The detective discovered that the manager was a thief.” Passive voice appears in sentences such as, “It was discovered that the manager was a thief.”

Why would someone use passive voice in a sentence like that? Because they want to call the manager a thief, but are afraid to say why!

Passive voice is common in scientific papers, because it lets the writers avoid using the words I or we, to avoid saying where their ideas came from. That’s why some teachers think that passive voice sounds more educated. Usually, though, it’s simply less definite. It might (or might not) fool your teacher, but in the real world, when they have something to say, even scientists don’t have the luxury of not being definite.

In business writing, sentences make the most sense when the subject comes first, followed by what the subject is doing. So make sure passive writing is not reducing the efficiency of your words.

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15 Responses to “Passive Writing”

  • Dave

    Interesting. I was always taught that using the passive voice is practically sinful, and I’ve managed to avoid using it for a long time now.

    You make it sound as if it’s acceptable to use it sometimes, though. If anyone reads this, could they give an example of passive voice used correctly? (i.e., without reducing the efficiency of words.)

  • Michael

    Passive voice does seem to reduce the efficiency of words. But if you don’t know who is doing the action, sometimes you can’t get around it. Also, scientists use passive voice when they want to de-emphasize the actor.

    Examples:
    “Rules are made to be broken.”
    “The door had been forced open, and the jewels had been stolen.”
    “Further research needs to be done to prove this hypothesis.”

    Yes, you could rewrite these sentences in active voice, but the subject would be a vague noun such as “somebody.”

  • Ron

    Re: Active versus Passive

    Choose the desired sentence context: Doer versus Receiver, such as “John hit the ball” versus “John was hit by the ball”.

  • PRAKASH

    It’s awonderful experience to learn the difference between active and passive writing,active is more forceful well explainatory…please corrections welcom as I am beginner

  • PreciseEdit

    Ron: The passive of the sentence should be “The ball was hit by John.” Your example is the passive form of “The ball hit John.”

    Usually, with a little thinking, most sentences can be converted from passive to active. In the above example, “Further research needs to be done to prove this hypothesis,” could be worded as “Future research will confirm or reject this hypothesis,” or “This hypothesis needs further examination.” “This hypothesis will be proved through future research.” (Note: no self-respecting scientist would write the original sentence since hypothesis are not “proved” nor can a person claim that a hypothesis will be proved.)

  • adizitsky

    i just still crazy with those two…!!!!
    would u like to give more examples…!!!!
    in sentences, better..!!!

  • Ches

    Could you please tell me which one is better:

    Food is something to eat. or
    Food is something to be eaten.

    Thanks

  • Grace Eom

    interesting, interested.
    I wonder this difference.

  • LO FORTUGALEZA

    Hi everyone!

    As a professional who has been teaching others to write business correspondence for the past ten years, I feel more confident signing off letters or memos that are made up of sentences written in the active voice. Sentences written in the active voice are far more helpful in helping readers to visualize what the writer is trying to say; hence, they promote faster understanding.

    Using sentences written in the passive voice gives me a feeling that what I signed off is something I cannot stand by, assert for, and at worst, fight for.

  • TNB

    I just wanted to ask…
    Can somebody please help me answer this question?

    In what kinds of writing do you use the passive tense more than the active?

  • TNB

    I need the answer as soon as possible…
    Perhaps before 26th April..
    I would be grateful for your help…
    Thank you…

  • James Eagle

    Rule of thumb, always use active: “The man helped the girl”.

    You can use passive if you know what you are doing. For example, if you want the reader feel sympathetic towards the girl, you might write, “The girl was helped by the man”.

    If you were telling a story about a girl, this would keep the focus on her.

  • Sajjad Amin Bangash

    Whatever the reader wants to read your writing…the message should be clearly understood and well written in the reader’s mind.
    I equally participate the active and passive voice in my writing but clearly depends on the circumstance where it is necessary to win the situation.

    Using passive voices in situations like to avoid the blunt and non-performing attitude, i tend to win and force the situation merely relying on passive voices. It’s the art, people have to practically take the full advantage from.

    I’m successful in it, and urge others to distribute your language in both active and passive voices…I win hearts and you can…

    Do it…

    Sajjad Bangash, Islamabad

  • Zainul Abedin

    Sometimes passive sentences seem awkward and it is difficult to teach students passive forms.
    “Never disobey your parents.” how should this be made passive?
    Is it “Let not your parents be ever disobeyed.” or “Let never your parents be disobeyed.” ?

    Zainul Abedin, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

  • Tony

    Zainul….you are using the imperative, in the negative. Therefore the subject, perhaps “you” or more formally “one” is missing. Also, there is a modal verb missing: “should” or “must”. Therefore, “You should/must never disobey your parents” (active) becomes “Your parents should/must never be disobeyed” (passive).

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