Home > A Freelance Writer Day > Passive Voice Is Not Always Wrong

Passive Voice Is Not Always Wrong

Long ago, writing authorities decided that passive voice was “weaker” than active voice, and therefore, discouraged. However, no one has ever proclaimed passive voice to be grammatically incorrect. This leads to some head-butting with editors from time to time.

passive voice graphicEditors, of course, follow the various rules of their own publications, as well as the established rules of the English language and grammar usage. Their job is to ensure that the various writing styles and voices of writers are accommodated* while still preserving the integrity and readability of the publication. In pursuit of this mission, editors almost always demand that passive voice be eliminated.

*’are accomidated’ is passive. Note, that it is not WRONG, jut passive. To make it active, you need to switch the sentence around and use the main active verb ‘accommodate.’

There are certain topics that make it hard to eliminate passive voice. More specifically, there are certain sentences that make eliminating passive voice difficult. When talking about something that someone may choose, or not choose to do, or allow in the future, passive voice is hard to get away from without making the sentence awkward. I notice this most when writing about taxes.

Tax rules and regulations often offer taxpayers a choice. A sentence must, therefore, make it clear that there is a choice. Using the word may, or can, is a good way to show that there is a choice. Next, most tax advice or tips involves what the taxpayer will do in the future. Add it up and you end with passive phrasing.

“A taxpayer is allowed to take a deduction.”

That sentence is passive, is allowed.

Fixing it requires a different subject, or verb.

“Tax code allows the taxpayer a deduction.”

-or-

“A taxpayer may take a deduction.”

While I understand the concept of avoiding passive voice, it is still my contention that the first sentence conveys the information most accurately in terms of tenor, sound, or feel, even if the others are grammatically the same information.

 

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If you were wondering, yes, I am writing something and the passive is bugging me 🙂

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