A weekly grammar tip created by Academic Center Peer Writing Tutors.
University of Houston-Victoria
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|When is a Good Time to Use a Passive
by Ernest Amador
In most writing situations, we want to use the active voice because with an active type of sentence construction, the subject does the action. What we get from an active sentence is a concise, direct sentence—which can help reduce the chances of our readers' becoming confused. But there are some instances when it might be a good idea to use a sentence with a passive voice—a sentence that focuses on the receiver of the action instead of the agent that is doing the action.
In particular, the passive voice may be helpful when we have to tell the reader he or she failed to do something or when we intentionally want to leave out or protect the agent or doer. Let’s take a look at some examples:
EX: You did not send a payment with the bill. (Active Voice)
In the example above, the message using active voice is clear and direct; however, the tone is somewhat accusatory. But if we use the passive voice instead of the active voice, we can still tell the reader what he or she needs to know without sounding too harsh. Here’s how
EX: A check was not attached. (Passive Voice)
The passive voice allows us to focus more on the check instead of the person who failed to send it. It allows us to avoid "pointing the finger" and placing blame.
Now let’s take a look at two sentences that use the active voice. In these sentences, a person whose identity we might want to protect or whose identity is not necessarily essential to the message is named:
EX: The new mover accidentally damaged the piano. (Active Voice)
EX: Tom shattered the window. (Active Voice)
Both sentences above tell the reader clearly who did the action. Yet, if we decide that naming the agent is not a good idea, we can take advantage of using a passive voice construction.
EX: The piano was accidentally damaged. (Passive Voice)
EX: The window was shattered by the baseball. (Passive Voice)
|Recommended Grammar Website of the
by Ernest Amador
The Academic Center has created a handout that offers a more in-depth discussion on Active and Passive Sentences. Along with our own website, this week we recommend Seton Hill University’s Online Writing Resources. Visitors will find tips on several different types of writing, as well as more information on active and passive sentences.
|Test Your Knowledge|
by Ernest Amador
In the following sentences which contain negative news, revise to use a passive voice to focus on the action instead of the agent.
1. We cannot honor your request for a refund because you failed to submit the warranty information on time.
2. Last night when I borrowed your car, I accidentally dented the hood.
3. No one showed up at the party because Brian didn’t
send out the initiations on time.
Answers (Your answers may be different)
1. The request for a refund cannot be honored because the warranty information was not received.
2. The car’s hood was dented by the garage door.
3. No one showed up because the initiations were not mailed on time.
Comments about this newsletter should be directed to Summer Leibensperger, firstname.lastname@example.org.