damnum absque injuria

July 17, 2009

The Passive Voice Should Be Shunned

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 9:15 pm

Have you ever noticed how often people use agent-free verb forms like “past” participles or the passive voice to avoid putting their own reputations on the line? As in, “it got broken” vs. “I broke it?”. Or “so-and-so is a trusted/respected journalist” vs. “I trust/respect so-and-so, and here’s why I think you should, too.”

Sometimes going agent-free, or de-emphasizing the agent, makes sense. If your best friend is in the hospital following a car accident, the fact that he/she was injured probably matters more to you than the question of who injured him. But in most cases, it is believed by me that the passive voice should be eschewed by all.

5 Responses to “The Passive Voice Should Be Shunned”

  1. Robin S. Says:

    I tend to agree that the passive voice should be avoided most of the time (especially in writing where one’s own reputation is on the line), but it has its uses, even in less dire situations than the one you describe.

    I’m a big fan of using it at work, especially if something’s broken.

    It’s often a lot more useful to just get the damned thing fixed and worry about who broke it later (if ever), in my experience. Use of the active voice in such situations puts people on the defensive, even if the active voice user is actually the person who broke the item in the first place.

    If I say “I broke this, and need your help to fix it,” I’m often very tempted to immediately follow with defensive (or, at least, explanatory) statements. On the other hand, if I simply say, “This has been broken,” I don’t feel the need to explain, just to fix the problem. Fixing the issues that caused this problem can usually wait until the immediate crisis has passed.
    .-= Robin S.´s last blog ..Liberal Diversity =-.

  2. nk Says:

    I am entirely in agreement, X.

  3. Trumwill Says:

    I still use the passive voice more than I should, but thanks to Microsoft I know longer rely on it. It used to underline anything in the passive voice and suggest that you use the active voice instead. Boy was that obnoxious, but it did the trick. I started writing in the active voice just to get it to stop underlying half of my sentences in green.

    I wonder if Word still that.

  4. Doc Rampage Says:

    Agreement is what I feel about that too.

  5. nk Says:

    In the beginning was the word. And the word was of god and the word was god.

    One of my favorite writers has called language an affliction upon humanity. I do use the indicative, and the active voice, as much as I can, but I have been scolded by Southerners fot my use of the imperative. It’s a big grammar and there’s a place for the passive voice in it.
    .-= nk´s last blog ..Ask =-.

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