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On the Passive Voice

October 3, 2011

I think I’ve written before about my ongoing evolution of understanding with regard to the passive voice.  I think I’m beginning to understand exactly what the passive voice actually is, grammatically speaking. 

And I’m coming to further understand that there’s nothing wrong with a little passive voice, after all.  It can be, in fact, quite useful, and in some circumstances a switch to active voice can actually obscure meaning.

All of which is not to see that I’ve decided to actively embrace the passive voice, per se.  Only not to eschew it.

Here’s another little link in the long saga of the passive voice, for your reading pleasure.

(Link courtesy of Jay Lake)

13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2011 5:15 pm

    Hmm, you’re certainly right. The passive voice definitely has a place in the world of writing, if only to switch up perspectives and get a fresh narration. Perspective can be substantially switched-up by the passive voice, if only it is tried. 😉

    • October 4, 2011 8:22 am

      I see what you did there!

      • October 4, 2011 2:42 pm

        Yes! Yes! Someone finally picked up on my subtle word play!!!

        (And don’t raise an eyebrow…you’d be surprised that usually doesn’t happen. :))

      • October 4, 2011 2:46 pm

        Actually, it was pretty subtle – I wasn’t entirely sure you were using the passive voice, at first. It took me a minute to parse it out.

    • October 4, 2011 8:28 pm

      Revealed, your subtle wordplay is!

      (That’s not passive voice; it’s Yoda-voice, and I do advise staying away from Yoda-voice in writing. :- ) )

  2. October 3, 2011 7:39 pm

    Ha! Interesting article.

    I guess when it comes to any writing advice that discourages the use of something is to have balance. I don’t just want to know why it can be problematic; I also want to know when it can be helpful. It helps to understand the thing being taught a lot better when you can contrast both sides.

    • October 4, 2011 8:44 am

      I think that’s true: things need to be balanced. Sometimes, replacing a passive clause with an active will improve a story. Sometimes it will detract. Understanding when to use it and when not to is important. It seems that means understanding what it is better, as well. I think I’ve got it figured out, now.

    • October 4, 2011 8:29 pm

      I agree. Tools mostly don’t last if they don’t have a purpose.

  3. October 3, 2011 8:41 pm

    A rule of thumb I’m happy to live by: So long as the writer is communicating *what* he intends, *how* he communicates it ought to be largely up to him.
    If every piece of technical writing advice were always followed to the letter, there’d be a sad reduction in room for individual style.

    • October 4, 2011 8:52 am

      That’s true. But I do think the reader ought to be considered as well. One of the reasons for the passive voice rule in the first place was about ease of readability – making writing easier to comprehend. It turns out that rule was misplaced… but reading comprehension is still important. Communication is a two-way street: there’s how you communicate it but there’s also how the communicatee receives that message.

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