Do We Need A Passive Voice?

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Passive Voice in briefs

“It was three o’clock in the morning. I was exhausted and my mind hadn’t been visited by a single bright idea by that time. I was obsessed with the intention of shaking off that horrid Passive Voice. But whatever had been done by me, my paper inexorably has been marked by its sinister omen. A decision was taken, finally: the Passive Voice was let in. I was crushed under its force. To be continued…” If a smile touched your face while reading this description it is most likely you perceived the correlation between its form and contents. Indeed, all the sentences are built by means of the Passive Voice. But why the author applies so much effort to avoid it? Let’s find out together.

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First of all, let us talk of the category itself. The grammar categories are studied in their oppositions. The opposite of the Passive Voice is the Active Voice. Studying these categories in their opposition allows outlining the inherent attributes of both. Yet even the superb knowledge of the grammar doesn’t guarantee your text is executed absolutely correctly. Our recent post on the ways to proofread the essay in different circumstances is available on the website

Thus we’ll represent the Passive Voice in brief statements, each outlining a particular feature of the Passive Voice that differ it from the Active Voice:

1. It serves to replace the accents of meaning in the sentence: the attention is attracted to the receiver of the action, instead of its initiator or the action itself, like in Active Voice:

A treasure from the Xth century was discovered under the wooden planks. – We are attracted by the “treasure” and pay our attention to it first, while it is not the actor in this sentence. The real actor (that discovered the treasure) isn’t mentioned. Compare this sentence in the Active Voice:

The maintenance brigade discovered the treasure from the Xth century under the wooden planks. – In this sentence our attention is drawn to the actor – the maintenance brigade, and it is posterior only that we get to know about the treasure.

2. Passive Voice represents a fixed construction. It consists of the Verb to be in some of its forms (was/were, has been, is being - depending on Tense) followed by the Perfect Participle:

I was continuously reminded of this boring assignment. – Past Simple Passive

The street had been crowded with people during the whole day long. – Past Perfect Simple Passive

My essay is being proofread by the editor at the moment. – Present Continuous Passive

The Passive Voice cannot acquire the Future Continuous and Perfect Continuous tenses due to the impossibility to construct such forms.

The negative form is constituted by means of the Particle not that goes right after the first auxiliary Verb:

Carlyle has not been told the conference had been cancelled. 

The Interrogative sentences are formed in the common way: the auxiliary Verb is placed first, followed by the grammatical Subject, upon which the main Verb is put:

Have your lessons been taught to the students already?

The Imperative sentence cannot be formed by means of the Passive Voice. Its implicit sense foresees the indication of the subject of an action and is addressed to it:

Hand me that booklet from the stand, will you? – Active Voice

3. The Passive Voice can acquire a category of personality. The Personal Passive Voice is a “common” Passive Voice, the Subject of the action is explicitly presented or is implied:

The trolley was pulled along the rails. – the actor (puller, worker) is implied.

The Personal Passive is formed by the transitive Verbs (ones that require an object as a destination of the action they describe), such as love, bring, discuss, maintain, write.

The Impersonal Passive is less common in the English speech. It is formed by intransitive Verbs (that describe an action in itself and do not require an object for it) and is implemented in situations when the initiator of the action is unknown or should not be mentioned:

 The atomic reactor was improperly maintained that almost caused the blow. – We don’t want to say who admitted the improper maintenance.

It is said that love lasts for the first three years. – Representing a common knowledge fact, or the author of the idea is unknown.

4. The real subject of an action may be missed in the sentence; or indicated in the capacity of the grammatical object. For that purpose it is preceded with the preposition by:

The play was performed splendidly. – the Subject is implied

The play was performed splendidly by the actors. – the Subject is explicit

The Passive Voice construction also allows for the indication of the means, material or tool that assisted in the action performance. It can be marked by the prepositions with:

The room was decorated nicely with the electric lights

5. The Passive Voice is a stale construction in regard to the word order. The simplified scheme goes as follows (Narrative sentence): Grammatical subject (Object of action) – auxiliary + main Verb (action) – grammatical object (Subject of an action) – supplement (tool):

The dress was torn by the stranger with the pair of scissors.

Other parts of sentence may complement the phrase: attributes, adverbial modifiers. They take their usual position in the sentence:

The fancy dress was torn by the stranger tonight, with the pair of scissors.

The order of the words in the sentence is quite a flexible category. In some languages it is an absolutely free one, you can put any word into any position, some has a stale sentence structure, and many others (English included) represent the mixed type: they allow certain modifications, but there is also a set of the fixed positions in the sentence’ construction that must not be violated. However, if you feel your sentences lack a solid construction, the order is wobbly and the sense is tending to wane away, venture to try the college essay editing service for your essay. The result will give you the same text but presented in an optimal way.

We can see the Passive Voice is a grammar case representing the one part of the Active-Passive opposition. It has its own construction scheme and its prime goal is to highlight the object of the action instead of the action or its initiator.

Now let us find out what situations the Passive Voice can describe.

Where to use Passive Voice

The meaning and reasonability of any grammar category is defined by its implementation in the speech and writing, i.e. by its function. To get straight with the impact of the Passive Voice, let us examine the areas of its usage and the sense it relays.

The Passive Voice is implemented in the following situations of speech:

  • The speaker intents to draw attention to the object of the action, to show it as the most important part in his sentence:

Luckily, my book was written before the War and I managed to have it published then. – The accent is on the book and the time of its writing

The essay has been edited professionally and there was but a single flaw in it. – the speaker wants to tell about the essay and its merits, not the process of proofreading and the editor who performed it

  • The initiator of the action is considered as non-important, or is not known to the speaker:

Ladies’ logic is supposed to differ from that of the rest of the world. – it doesn’t matter, who exactly said this, now it is a common phrase

The parking was closed until November. – the speaker doesn’t know the people who closed the parking

Be careful with this function as the excessive use of the Passive Voice may create an impression of the absence of the action initiator. When you put all your sentences into the Passive Voice, it seems you influence nothing, but all the events happen independently and modify you as well. To avoid such unfavorable effect, check our article on the ways to revise your paper

  • The initiator is presumed out of the sentence’ context:

Did it take long for you to write this story? – No, it was written within a week. – the initiator is already known and there is no need to indicate him or her again.

  • The initiator is deliberately weeded out of the sentence (by different reasons):

Indeed, when we arrived, the TV-set was broken. – may be the speaker himself broke the TV-set or does not want to disclose the guilty party

The conclusions were drawn based on irrelevant arguments and must be replaced. – the speaker wishes to ease the responsibility by not mentioning the acting party

  • The speaker wants to make the promise or express assurance. It is usually preceded by the Active Voice clause:

I promise that this time the whole day will be dedicated to the family.

Believe me, the story won’t go any further as far as I am concerned.

While the usage of the Passive Voice may seem complicated, there are but few cases where it cannot be used. If you strive to master the English grammar for your language speaking skills, but the deadline for your essay has already expired, the professional online essay proofreader will solve your problems quickly and efficiently. However, if you have time, let us explore the cases where Passive Voice is impossible or quite close to it:

1. The Passive Voice cannot be used with the intransitive Verbs that do not require the object as the direct destination of their action: muse, collide, crawl, fly etc. Such intransitive Verbs as follow, seize, attend, characterize may form the Passive Voice by the additional indication of the action initiator:

I mused over this situation but could not find a solution. – The situation was mused by me. – incorrect

The master was followed by his disciples who did not dare to say a word.

The opportunity was seized by them immediately.

2. As already mentioned, the Future Continuous and Perfect Continuous Tenses cannot form the Passive Voice. Besides, be there an opportunity, the construction would look so cumbersome, that it would scarcely be ever used:

I will be am told such a good story by him this afternoon! He’ll be telling me such a good story this afternoon! – Future Continuous

My book had been is writing for the several months.I had been writing my book for several months. – Past Perfect Continuous

3. The Passive Voice cannot be formed in situations where the initiator of the action is of the primary importance:

You solely can turn off this faucet! Do it immediately! – we can say The faucet can be turned by you solely. Do it immediately! – but in this case the sentence loses not only the sense of urgency and action, but also seems illiterate.

We see that the Passive Voice can be used in different situations that can be grossly divided onto three groups: 1. object highlighted; 2. initiator shaded; 3. promises and assurances. The usage of the Passive Voice is limited by the category of Tense and also by such property of the Verb as transition. The Passive Voice must also be appropriate and avoided in situations where the initiator of the action or the action itself must be highlighted.

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Should we use it? Pros and cons

In the above clauses we have found out the Passive Voice is used to relay different meaning and has its peculiarities of construction and word-combination, as well as limitation of usage.

Almost all languages on the Earth possess a Passive Voice in their grammar, though its use may be less encouraged in some languages and much more favored in others. Some of the languages even possess the category of Anti-Passive Voice. Thus, the Passive Voice, though implemented by numerous languages, isn’t an absolute grammar category.

Though it serves certain goals, the tendency of the last decade is to avoid Passive Voice as much as possible. Such recommendations usually originate in scientific boards, editorials, linguistic tutorials. Let us see what factors vote for the use of the Passive Voice and which ones are against it.

The advantages of the Passive Voice:

1. It allows to distract attention from the action and its initiator. Sometimes we pursue the goal to say something we don’t have enough information about, but can’t allow for not being precise. This is where the Passive Voice might help. And that is why it is used so often by the news media:

A provocation was attempted today during the meeting at the Parliament House. – the initiators of the provocations are unknown, and the media do not want to admit they don’t have that information yet. So they Drop the initiator and instead of saying Some unknown persons attempted the provocation they use the Passive Voice.

2. The Passive Voice helps to relieve or at least lessen the responsibility, at the same time admitting the fact of the mistake. It goes again by using the Passive Voice and making an accent on the fact itself or supporting circumstances:

The dissertation was prepared without proper checking of the arguments and theory. – Here the responsibility of the postgraduate is lessened, he or she is not in the centre of the sense spoken

3. The Passive Voice allows to describe the historical events without getting into much detail. In some cases it saves the space and spares the reader the superficial details:

The World War II was held for 6 years.

4. The Passive Voice also performs the function of politeness. In some contexts it can be unethical to point our the initiator of the action:

The twins were born in the nasty autumn morning. – in some cultures it is considered unaccustomed to emphasize the mother’s part in such sentence.

The analysis was brought in time. – in this sentence the awkward situation may happen if the analysis is of a special kind

5. The formal styles of speech such as scientific and business style do not encourage the highlighting of the initiator of the action. Instead they focus on the results and the ways to reach them (objects and action). So they favor the Passive Voice:

The research was held since May, 2nd until Sept., 15th.

The Agreement for the sunflower meal supply has been finally signed.

The formal styles tend to the usage of the Passive Voice more than informal ones. It is a frequent “visitor” in the scholars’ essays, articles, theses.  If you’re in doubt as to the excessive use of the Passive Voice in your paper, our dissertation proofreading service will adjust it in the optimal way.

The enemies of the Passive Voice emphasize on its following drawbacks:

1. Wordiness. Usually by using the Passive Voice you add some words to the sentence as you need to put the auxiliary Verb and prepositions to connect the object and supplement:

The window was shut tight by the storekeeper, and the curtains were drawn immediately. – Passive Voice, 14 words, 85 symbols

The storekeeper shut the window tight and drew the curtains immediately. – Active Voice, 11 words, 71 symbol

2. Lack of precision. When used improperly, the Passive Voice may cause the misunderstanding due to the absence of the important information:

The bus was stopped at the curb. – it is hard to derive from the context whether the bus was stopped by the driver’s intention or at the order of the Police.

The board was gathered in the conference hall, and the meeting started. – this sentence seems unfinished as there is no indication to the person or reason that initiated the gathering

3. The mental setup. The Passive Voice doesn’t correspond to the modern tendency of action and self-development. Using the Passive Voice relieves the responsibility from the initiator of the action. It allows the people to avoid the responsibility for the consequences, too:

The archives were to be kept for 5 years but were demolished after the second year already. – It isn’t understood who was responsible for the archives’ keeping, and who will take the punishment should it be charged

The nature was threatened by the high-speed non-ecological construction of buildings. – avoiding the names of the guilty parties here may have a political context aiming to replace responsibility onto all the people who participated in the construction and use its results.   

Thus the Passive Voice may be wholesome for certain purposes (when you need to change the accent in the sentence and highlight the object of the action, when you want to be polite or modest and not to emphasize your own part), but used excessively and improperly, it may lead to the blurring of the information, lack of preciseness and wordiness. So the universal rule works well in this case: use the Passive Voice properly and measure it wisely. This will allow you to make your speech and your texts lively and informative.

After all, it is completely your own decision, whether and how much to use the Passive Voice. The correct use of the Passive Voice, without bending onto any side (excessive usage – complete absence) will place you into the middle way. Threading that way you will definitely develop your language skills, improve the general style of your paper and get the best proofreading and editing services both in USA or UK.

But what happened next to the hero of the passage you read in the beginning of this post? Let us find out: “When I was brought back to my mind, the 6.00 pm and 8 missed calls were looming on my smartphone. But no attention could be paid to it at the moment. The laptop was still switched on and it was with trembling hands and a feverish gleam in the eyes that my first phrase in the Active Voice was typed: “Carol never used the Passive Voice in her speech””.

Get on close terms with your English grammar with the assistance of the dedicated posts from our blog:

  1. How To Apply Gerund In Your Speech
  2. How To Master Complex Tenses In English
  3. Proofreading For Students. Articles In English
  4. Where To Use Participles In Your Speech
  5. How To Use The Adverbs In Your Speech

What is your position towards the Passive Voice? Do you use it frequently in your speech? Give us an idea of your view by posting your comment to this article!