Passive Voice – When to Use & When to Avoid Using It

Time to read: 4 Minutes
Passive-voice-Definition

Native writers would most likely already understand when to utilize the passive voice. To others, it can be difficult to ascertain when to use it specifically. However, you may considerably enhance your use of the style by studying and carefully putting into practice several fundamental principles. This article offers clarifications on when to use this style in academic writing and when to avoid it.

Passive Voice – In a Nutshell

  • Good writing generally avoids using the style, even when it’s necessary.
  • To use the passive voice, a past participle and the verb “to be” are necessary.
  • It is not really a grammatical mistake; rather, it’s a style.
  • Passive style can be used when the actor is undisclosed or when the subject is insignificant.

Definition: Passive voice

The passive voice is employed to express interest in the object or person experiencing an activity instead of the performer. When the object of an active sentence is placed as the subject, and when the past participle is used on a transitive verb right after some form of the verb “to be” then the statement is passive.1 2

The formula of passive voice:

Subject + Form of “to be” + Transitive verb in past participle + prepositional phrase (optional)

Examples:

Active Voice Passive Voice
The auto repair shop repairs the vehicle monthly. The vehicle is repaired monthly at the auto repair shop.
Kirstine mowed the lawn yesterday. The lawn was mowed yesterday by Kirstine.

The passive voice may be employed, when the performer is not clarified or there is no interest in mentioning them.3

Passive Voice: When to use & when to avoid using it

In contrast to the active voice, which consists of the subject performing the action indicated by the verb, the passive voice reports the subject as the person or thing that is being acted upon by the verb.4

Examples:

Active:

  • Judge Keegan presided over the hearing.

Passive:

  • The hearing was presided over by Judge Keegan.

Do you ever use active voice?

  • The majority of writing consists of an active voice. By using the active voice, you may prevent wordy phrases and maintain your message clear to readers. Sometimes in academic research, using the passive style excessively may make your statements difficult to understand.5

What situations call for passive voice?

  • When the performer is unidentified, or when you wish to leave room for interpretation, you employ it. Additionally, it may be used to emphasize the person or thing that was acted upon.6

Using passive voice in academic writing

Even in academic writing, the style can occasionally be used purposefully. To lessen the subject’s prominence in their statements, writers may deliberately shift the subject elsewhere in the sentence, thus establishing an impartial tone.7

When to avoid using the passive

Every time you have the decision to make, go with the alternate. If it avoids stating who performed something, it is inappropriate.

When to use the passive

Depending on what you are trying to say, you may use passive voice if you really want to bring more attention to the actor.

FAQs

The performer is not the grammatical subject. Instead, the object or person that receives an activity becomes the subject. Passive sentences consist of the verb “to be” in combination with a past participle verb.

It is used in sentences to stress the action itself instead of the performer.

Passive statements are frequently used in academic writing to establish a much more informative and formal tone.

It is employed to demonstrate an emphasis on the subject of an activity rather than the performer. It is also useful when the performer is not clarified or does not want to be mentioned.

Sources

¹ Corson Tim and Rebecca Smollett. “Passive Voice: When to Use It and When to Avoid It” Advice.writing.utoronto.ca. Accessed November 15, 2022. https://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/revising/passive-voice/

² Capstone Editing. “When is Passive Voice Useful?” Capstoneediting.com.au. June 2017. https://www.capstoneediting.com.au/blog/when-is-passive-voice-useful

³ Enago Academy. “How to Effectively Use Active and Passive Voice in Academic Writing” Enago.com. November 16, 2021. https://www.enago.com/academy/active-and-passive-voice-in-academic-writing/

⁴ Dublin City University. “The Passive Voice in Academic Writing” Dcu.ie. Accessed November 15, 2022. https://www.dcu.ie/sites/default/files/students/pm_16-4-20_passive_voice.pdf

⁵ Walden University. “Active and Passive Voice” Academicguides.waldenau.edu. Accessed November 15, 2022. https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/scholarlyvoice/activepassive

⁶ Wagner-Strafford Boni. “4 Big Reasons to Use Passive Voice When You Write Nonfiction” Ingeniumbooks.com. December 4, 2018. https://ingeniumbooks.com/passive-voice-when-you-write-nonfiction/

⁷ Kramer Limdsay. “Active vs. Passive Voice” Grammerly.com. September 16, 2022. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/active-vs-passive-voice/

⁸ Underwood Alice. “Passive Voice: When to Avoid It and When to Use It” Grammerly.com. September 16, 2022. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/passive-voice/