VERB VOICE

Lesson Three

When Passive Voice Is Preffered Over the Active Voice

The active voice Opens in new window is often preferred when it comes to spoken or written English because it makes our constructions direct, clearer and easily understood. However, there are some situations where the passive voice may suitably fit best.

In this study, we'll take a close look at certain contexts where the passive voice may be preferred.

1.  We may use the passive voice when we don’t know the active subject (doer) of the action:

Passive Voice
  • Someone stole the watch. (No one knows who stole it.)

2.  We may use passive voice when the active subject (doer of the action) is not important, and we want to focus attention on the active object (receiver of the action):

Passive Voice
  • Workers were paid. (It isn't important to know who paid them.)

3.  We may use the passive voice when it becomes obvious who the active subject is:

Passive Voice
  • The thief was arrested.

4.  We may use passive voice when we want to focus attention on the action of the sentence rather than the doer of the action:

Passive Voice
  • Scores of people were injured in the fire mishap.

5.  In standard practice, the passive voice is often used to describe scientific or mechanical processes by avoiding the personal pronounOpens in new window or to focus attention on the research rather than the researcher.

For example:
  • The gas flaring alternative solution is being conducted presently.

6.  The passive voice is widely used in news reports:

For example:
  • The public's grievances have been channeled to the proper authority.

7.  In certain contexts, the sentence in the active voice may sound awkward. Hence, we prefer to use the passive voice when speaking or writing.

Compare the following:

Active Voice

  • His mother bore him in Louisiana in 1976. (sounds awkward)

Passive Voice

  • He was born in Louisiana in 1976. (sounds good)

8.  Sometimes, we make use of the passive voice when we want to make our statements more formal and polite.

Compare the following:

Active Voice

  • You have not submitted the implementation plan. (less polite)

Passive Voice

  • The implementation plan has not been submitted. (more polite)

9.  Sometimes we do find ourselves shifting away responsibility; passive voice is preferred in such occasion.

Compare the following:

Active Voice

  • We made a mistake

Passive Voice

  • A mistake was made.
Important Hint!  

Avoid switching from active to passive voice or passive to active voice in one sentence as this can bring up awkwardness, and retarded expression.

Correct Expressions

  • I studied the bible, and John practiced guitar. (consistent active voices)
  • The bible was studied by me, and guitar was practiced by John. (consistent passive voices)

Incorrect Expressions

  • I studied the bible, and guitar was practiced by John. (switching of voices from active to passive)
  • The bible was studied by me, and John practiced guitar. (switching of voices from passive to active)
    See next pages.
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