The passive voice is a way of rephrasing a sentence to make it so that the subject isn’t doing something, but that the subject is having something done to them. But should you use the passive voice? Or is it bad to use it? This article will answer these questions.
Is It Bad to Use Passive Voice?
No, it is not bad to use the passive voice. Generally speaking, many grammar checkers and spell checkers will flag the use of passive voice as a mistake, but this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the passive voice is inherently bad and that you should avoid it.
Spell checkers say that the passive voice is a “mistake” for several reasons. Mainly, there is a prevalent myth that the passive voice is inaccurate and leads to other mistakes.
This is, of course, merely a myth. It’s not bad to use the passive voice, no matter what any given spell checker or grammar checker says. Whether you use it is a matter of style.
Using the passive voice is fine because it’s a good way to emphasize the results of a given action without giving equal weight to the action itself.
Therefore, when you want to call attention to the results that something had, there are few resources better than the passive voice to emphasize that attention.
People dislike the passive voice because they perceive it as “wrong”, but most of the time this is genuinely a style issue, and using it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re using bad or incorrect grammar.
Why Is Passive Voice Bad?
The passive voice is not bad. However, it is seen as bad because of a trend that got started in the first half of the 20th century, that proclaims that the passive voice is a cheap resource that only obfuscates the real meanings of sentences.
The truth is that good writing doesn’t use the passive voice in every sentence, as for a reader that would get exhausting very quickly.
However, you also have to consider the fact that never using the passive voice, even when it’s necessary, is also bad form, and the myth that the passive voice is bad remains inaccurate.
While it may not be the main form of speech that you should use, the passive voice is a legitimately useful way of constructing a sentence that places more weight in the results, not the action.
Many people believe that you should just never use the passive voice, out of a fear that doing so will lead you to use bad grammar, or craft sentences that are clumsy and awkward.
Of course, in actuality people who don’t know grammar will use bad grammar whether or not they’re using the passive voice, and the presence of the passive voice doesn’t influence the quality of your grammar.
Why Does MS-Word Complain About Passive Voice?
Spell checkers like MS-Word are built to handle the highest amount of cases possible. However, even with modern advances in technology, it’s impossible to build a spell checker that will be able to discern, by context, when you should or shouldn’t use valid grammatical constructions like passive voice.
The MS-Word spell checker developers had two options. Either ignoring all cases of passive voice, in which they will allow texts that are only passive voice, or always flag the passive voice as incorrect.
MS-Word is unable to tell whether you’re overusing the passive voice (which is a mistake) or using it normally (which is perfectly valid). Therefore, just to be safe, it will always flag the passive voice as a mistake.
When Is It OK to Use Passive Voice?
The passive voice is a very useful form of sentence to use when you want to place emphasis on the results that an action had, as opposed to placing emphasis on the action itself. This is the main situation in which it’s OK to use the passive voice.
You can also use passive voice to make two sentences connect to each other in a smarter way, or you can even use the passive voice to break up the monotony of your regular sentence structures.
Here are some examples of sentences that properly use the passive voice:
- The room was actually cleaned by my sister and me.
- The paper was written by our team, with some help from the investigative group.
- The car was crashed by the man in the parking lot who was arriving after us.
- The computer was designed by an elite group of programmers and artists at the company.
- The apartment building was constructed by the grandparents of its modern residents.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.