In Defense Of Passive Voice

Subject: In Defense Of Passive Voice
From: "Murrell, Thomas" <TMurrell -at- alldata -dot- net>
To: "'TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com'" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 9 Nov 1999 09:04:58 -0500

I read with interest the thread "US vs. UK pronoun/voice usage." In 1985 -
86 I was fortunate enough to live for a year in Ireland. I heard that very
British use of "one" rather than "I" and passive construction as the
speaker/writer referred to himself or herself in the third person. I could
never decide whether it was an affectation or a cultural linguistic

I don't want to make a stirring defense of passive voice. I agree that most
of the time when passive is used, it is used badly. I've often said that
the two things that would greatly improve most non-professional writing are
the elimination of pronouns and restructuring prose into a more active

Still, we have a passive voice construction in English, and I think there
are times and places where it serves us well. Sometimes it just will not
make sense to the reader to cast a thought in the active voice. It is a
question of emphasis. If emphasis needs to be placed on the performer of
the action--and it usually does in the kind of writing Technical Writers
do--then an active construction is preferable. That is what we have
generally been taught, and that is what we generally do. Active voice makes
both the action and the performer very clear and specific.

However, I would be leery of abolishing passive voice altogether. Sometimes
passive is the best way to say what needs to be said.

Tom Murrell

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