The Power of Passive Voice

Back on the use of passive vs active voice. I was beginning to believe passive voice was bad, but no! I found a terrific video on YouTube which shows four uses for passive voice.

And over on Purdue Owl

Using Active Versus Passive Voice … [my emphasis in the quote]

This handout will explain the difference between active and passive voice in writing. It gives examples of both, and shows how to turn a passive sentence into an active one. Also, it explains how to decide when to choose passive voice instead of active. …

Recognizing Passive Voice
You can recognize passive-voice expressions because the verb phrase will always include a form of be, such as am, is, was, were, are, or been. The presence of a be-verb, however, does not necessarily mean that the sentence is in passive voice. Another way to recognize passive-voice sentences is that they may includeWP_20141205_010 a “by the…” phrase after the verb; the agent performing the action, if named, is the object of the preposition in this phrase.

In the MOOC, Grammar Write 101 on edX, run by the University of Queensland, the lecturer suggested using ‘by goblins’ after the verb. Being a fantasy writer, that appealed to me and explains the sign by my computer. If you want to do your head in over verb tenses and moods, knock yourself out!



15 thoughts on “The Power of Passive Voice

  1. Martha Kennedy says:

    Generally, the passive voice is useful when we don’t know who did the thing. My students were taught (not by me) NOT to use “I” — so their sentences were almost always in the passive voice and very wordy. That’s when the passive voice is “bad” — when it makes ideas unclear. It can also steal energy from prose very quickly. “Wait!” said his wife vs. “He was told to wait by his wife.” We don’t know whether that means his wife told him to wait or a third party told him to wait beside his wife. Anyway, that’s the kind of thing I’ve been dealing with teaching English for the past 15 years, anyway, since American kids started being taught not to use “I” and to write as many words as possible. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, I didn’t know about that direction in schooling! That is bizarre. I’ve only just caught on to that use, Martha, – using passive voice if you didn’t know who did something. Also if you do know, but don’t want to blame someone. 😀


      • Martha Kennedy says:

        Blame and also if you yourself don’t want to take the responsibility. Used a lot in politics and news over here. Definitely a powerful voice for deflecting the blame and responsibility.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I kept reading that I should write in active voice as much as possible too, but trying to change the way I write really messed me up. It’s always nice to hear that I’m not (necessarily) doing anything wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Molly, I’ve come to the conclusion that we must write the way that feels natural to us. It then becomes our style, our own voice. I’ll never get beyond the editing process if I worry too much about current trends.


  3. Aww you did it! And look at me – slack tart that I am 🙂 It’s going to take some time for me to get my head around this. I take it that this isn’t just a third person pov issue? I was not aware that you could use both: I thought you always stayed away from passive – which is interesting to hear this from me, seeing that I don’t really understand it… I did try one chapter in third person, and I think that I must be using passive and active all over the place ( and incorrectly). It was a hot mess! Like anything though, you need to be aware of it before you can learn from it. And now when I read and write, I can look out for it. Thanks, Christine!

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    • I took your suggestion to heart, Lorelle, and I’m glad I did because passive voice is not bad at all. It hasn’t anything to do with pov, it’s writing style more than anything. When you ‘tell’ you are more likely to use passive, but ‘showing’ will be using active verbs. The examples in the links above are pretty good. (though I’ve forgotten already). 😀

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