In our previous writes, we often discouraged the usage of passive voice. But in this article we would see the scenarios when passive voice is the only way. By the end of this article you would realize that passive voice is not a redundant grammar entry, it is just a style to hide non-necessary essentials.
When is passive voice considered to be good?
Sometimes passive voice is the best choice for writing. We will look into few examples when they are useful.
To mask the subject and highlight the object
Let us look into this point under this example.
100 votes are required to pass the bill.
In the above example, the focus is on number of votes rather than the event “bill”. Thus we can successfully emphasize the action. An active statement would read like “The bill requires 100 votes to pass”. This would put less emphasis on bill, making it less dramatic.
To de-emphasize an unknown subject/actor.
Consider this example:
Over 120 different contaminants have been dumped into the river.
In instances like this, when you don’t know the specifics of the actor, such as in this case, you don’t know who dumped all the contaminants in the river. When the knowledge about the actor is non-existent, passive writing helps you in reporting the action without actually stating the actor. But if you know the actor, your clarity and meaning would be benefited.
If your readers don’t need to know who’s responsible for the action.
In this scenario it is quite difficult to opt for the voice usage. Some instances, you deliberately make the sentence passive. This is done to highlight some fact. The catch is, try to put yourself in reader’s position and anticipate his reaction. Here are two examples:
Baby Julie was delivered at 3:30 a.m. yesterday.(passive)
Dr. Mark delivered baby Julie at 3:30 a.m. yesterday.(active)
Whereas the first sentence is more apt for the family members or friends, the second sentence is of more import for the hospital report. In first sentence we shift the importance to the baby while in the second the focus is on doctor.
Let us now deal down to strategies which would facilitate the passive voice indication.
- Look for the passive voice: “to be” + a past participle (usually, but not always, ending in “-ed”).
- If you do not see both of them, then discard. Else, does the sentence describe an action? If so, is there an actor? If there is an actor, check if it is in the grammatical subject position.
- Does the sentence end with “by..”? Many passive sentences include the actor at the end of the sentence in a “by” phrase, like “The ball was hit by the player” or “The shoe was chewed up by the dog.” “By” by itself isn’t a conclusive sign of the passive voice, but it is an indefinite indicator for passive voice.
- Is the doer/actor mentioned? Should you mention the doer?
- Does it really matter who’s responsible for the action?
- Are you writing something where a reader should need to know the actor?
- Do you want to emphasize the object?
If you observe that your sentence looks more elegant when written in active voice, switch to active voice.