UWF WRITING LAB
Your Passive Voice
Today I found my voice—my passive voice, and now I'm going to use it. NOT A GOOD IDEA! When you find your voice—your passive voice, learn how to use it moderately and in specific situations only.
For instance, A good time
was had by all of us! is a
passive voice sentence that would be better expressed as All
of us had a good time! The
sentence, as well as the verb, sounds very stiff, stilted, and unnatural: was
had! On the other hand, Rome
wasn't built in a day is a passive voice sentence that
works: since the performer of the action is unknown anyway, using passive
voice places the emphasis on the object—Rome, making the sentence
forceful and direct. More importantly, writing the sentence in passive
voice avoids the use of the vague pronoun "they" in the active
voice construction They did not build Rome in a day.
In a passive voice construction, the "real"
subject of a sentence (committee in the example above) is shifted
to a secondary, passive slot in the sentence (the object of the
preposition by), or it is omitted; a be verb form is added
to the active verb (was reached); and the object of the sentence (decision)
becomes the subject.
Despite these facts, there are instances in which
passive voice is universally used and accepted. The unwanted telephone
solicitor usually opens with this message: You
have been selected to receive. . . . If
you send email, you've seen Your mail has been
sent. If you're a wedding planner, or if you have received
a wedding invitation lately, you probably recognize this formal
expression: The favor of a reply is requested.
If you're a moviegoer, you should recognize these passive voice sentences:
The following previews have been approved by
the Motion Picture Association of America. Silence is appreciated.
Switching audiences is not permitted.
And, if you're a video/movie watcher, you should recognize these
passive voice sentences: Viewer discretion is
advised. The following film has been modified from its original version.
It has been formatted to fit this screen and edited to run in the time
allotted and for content.
Dr. Judith Steele in Chapter 4 of her book Write on Target cites several other instances in which the business writer should consider using passive voice (I have added examples):
As a professional/business writer, remember to be forceful, be active; and when you find your appropriate passive voice, use it!
Passive Voice Resistance
Passive voice should be avoided! All this professional hype about passive voice! Is the hype necessary? The objection to passive voice is that professional writing should be written in active voice. Is the objection reasonable? You decide. Each of the sentences below is written in passive voice. Which ones would be better left in the passive voice? That is, in which ones should the attention be drawn away from the subject?
- Passive Voice Addiction
Now, here's a one-paragraph letter
written in passive voice. Revise it. Call the Writing Lab/Grammar
Hotline at (850) 474-2129 for assistance.
Your letter requesting information
about our vanpooling program has been received in the director's office.
Please be advised, however, that in order for this office to respond to
your inquiry, appropriate forms must be completed. Accordingly, your
letter is being returned to you, and if you want the information being
sought, another letter with the enclosed forms must be sent to us.
Now, here's a one-paragraph letter written in passive voice. Revise it. Call the Writing Lab/Grammar Hotline at (850) 474-2129 for assistance.
Your letter requesting information about our vanpooling program has been received in the director's office. Please be advised, however, that in order for this office to respond to your inquiry, appropriate forms must be completed. Accordingly, your letter is being returned to you, and if you want the information being sought, another letter with the enclosed forms must be sent to us.
THE WHO, WHICH, OR THAT QUESTION
Use who (or whom)
to refer to people or animals with given names:
Use which to
refer to places, things, or events:
Use whose to
refer to both animate and inanimate objects:
Use that to
introduce restrictive information and to refer to groups of people,
places, things, and events:
You can e-mail questions about grammar and usage to the Grammar Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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