Reasons for and Against Passive Voice

Understanding Passive Voice

Passive voice refers to sentence construct where the subject receives the action specified by the verb. To better understand the concept, compare the following sentences:

  • Active: John ate an apple.
  • Passive: An apple was eaten by John.
  • In the passive voice sentence, the subject, 'An apple', is acted upon by the verb, and the original subject 'John' becomes part of the prepositional phrase 'by John'. This is the simplest form of a passive construction.

    Constructing Passive Voice Sentences

    Using passive voice involves rearrangement of the sentence and includes the following components:

  • The subject that explicitly or implicitly receives the action
  • A form of the auxiliary verb 'be'
  • A past participle of the main verb
  • The agent, optionally indicated by a 'by'-phrase
  • Generally, most passive sentence counterparts maintain the same tense as their active voice counterparts. For instance, present simple, present continuous, past simple, past continuous, and so on.

    Reasons For Using Passive Voice

    While the active voice is usually more clear and concise, there are several reasons to use passive voice:

    1. To Highlight the Action Rather Than the Actor

    If your focus is more on the action and less on who or what is performing the action, employing the passive voice can help. For instance:

  • Active: The director will announce the movie's release date next week.
  • Passive: The movie's release date will be announced next week.
  • 2. When the Actor is Unknown

    Sometimes, we might not know who or what acted as the subject. In such cases, we use the passive voice. For instance:

  • Passive: My wallet was stolen.
  • 3. To Avoid Blame

    Passive voice can be useful in a diplomatic or sensitive context, where it becomes necessary to avoid placing blame or focus on the actor. For example:

  • Passive: Mistakes were made.
  • 4. To maintain Cohesion

    In writing, we sometimes use the passive voice to maintain cohesion or follow a pattern of idea. This makes the writing smooth and logical. For instance:

  • Passive: The results of the test were analyzed by the researcher to ensure accuracy (following a sentence that was also in passive voice).
  • Reasons Against Using Passive Voice

    Despite the advantages mentioned above, excessive or inappropriate use of the passive voice can lead to problems:

    1. Lack of Clarity and Directness

    Active sentences are usually more straightforward and easier to understand. Passive sentences can sometimes create confusion, especially in complex sentences or when used excessively.

    2. Overuse of Passive Voice

    Passive voice usually makes sentences longer and they can become difficult to read if used extensively. Overuse of passive voice can make your writing heavy and tedious to read.

    3. Lack of Emphasis on Responsibility

    Because passive voice can omit the actor of the action, it can sometimes lead to misunderstanding about who bears the responsibility for the action. For example:

  • Passive: The experiment was handled inaccuritely.(Doesn't specify who handled the experiment inaccuritely)
  • 4. Passive Voice in Academic Writing

    While passive voice is frequently used in scientific and academic writing, it can lead to a depersonalized and vague style which may not engage the reader effectively.


    In conclusion, while active voice is typically preferred for clarity and brevity, there are instances where the passive voice is indeed the best choice. Understanding when and how to use passive voice effectively can significantly enhance your writing. To aid in this, use online grammar checkers, or have someone familiar with grammar read your drafts to provide feedback. The ultimate goal is to communicate your thoughts as clearly and directly as possible, with the appropriate amount of detail and emphasis.

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