When Using Passive Voice Works

Yes, you can use passive voice!

I know, I know, the “experts” say otherwise. But like all rules, it’s general, meaning that you the author gets to decide when passive voice is preferable to active voice.

Passive voice is when you use a “to be” past participle, that is, something was done by something. “The chicken was chased by the woman” versus “The woman chased the chicken.”

Active voice is more concise and readable, and it sounds stronger and more vibrant, accomplishing your goal as a writer of creating a page-turner, keeping your readers engaged from first page to last.

An article I have seen on the subject says:

Use active voice instead of passive voice, unless you have a legitimate reason for using passive voice (action being more important instead of the doer).

I couldn’t agree more. When I turned on “passive voice” checking as part of the grammar checker in Word 2003, some instances showed up (thankfully, not many). Some I changed and improved things. But in a number of instances, changing to active voice would have made things quite awkward.

Example 1:

“That sweater,” said Dulcina. “I – take it away – all of these things – take them away. I’d rather go naked.” Her face was twisted in a look of revulsion. She stepped back from the box suddenly and turned away.

The sentence in red is passive voice. It works here. It’s an observation by the person to whom she is speaking and is included for the benefit of the reader.

Example 2:

Colonel Eugene Pampas had been attached to the Judge Advocate General’s office of the Freelan National Guard for five years.

Keep your reader in mind. If passive voice is clear to understand and active voice would sound stilted or awkward, stick with passive voice. I tried rewriting the above, and the best I came up with was:

Five years earlier the Freelan National Guard had attached Colonel Eugene Pampas to the Judge Advocate General’s office.

But that seems quite awkard to me and unnecessary, since the original wording is clear, so I left the original in place.

Example 3:

She even had a good chance of being cured altogether as new medicines were being developed.

I had an easier time revising the above into this:

Even her chances of a cure altogether had improved as the development of new medicines progressed.

Bottom Line

Expert advice is great, but ultimately you, the author, have to make the choice.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.


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