JS Tip 298: Active and Passive Voice, Part IV

Tips from Jefferson Smith Training and Consulting

** From the Writing Workshops: Active and Passive Voice IV

We explored this topic years ago. We’ve had recent inquiries, so we’re exploring the topic again in a series of tips. This is the fourth in the series.

Using Passive Voice Appropriately

Passive voice is appropriate in only three ways: One: Use passive voice when whoever received the action is more important than whoever did the action: “The President was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital.” Two: Use passive voice when you don’t know who’s done the action: “The package was lost in the mail.” Three: Use passive voice when you don’t want to mention who’s done the action: “The copier’s been broken.” (Who broke the copier is unimportant. You’re protecting the intern who broke the machine.) Be careful; this may be ethical quicksand.

We found another memorable quotation in passive voice. But notice how Franklin Roosevelt follows the first principle (“when whoever received the action is more important than whoever did the action”): Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

This is passive voice, but it's appropriate passive voice.

To Roosevelt and his audience, “the United States of America” was their first concern.

** Recent Tips

JS Tip 298: Active and Passive Voice, Part III
JS Tip 297: Active and Passive Voice, Part II
JS Tip 296: Active and Passive Voice, Part I
JS Tip 295: Some More Discussion about Honesty
JS Tip 294: Some Answers about Lying

 

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