What is the ‘passive voice’?

April 24, 2010 at 9:57 am | Posted in copywriting | 5 Comments
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If it’s hard to read, they won’t.

Many documents I edit are written in the ‘passive voice’.

The passive voice is very bad news for communications, as it demands a greater number of longer words that are harder to read.

Recently a client asked what the passive voice actually means.

Here’s my light-hearted response:

Dear Fred,

This response has been cast, by me, in the passive voice, for the amusement of you.

Your words that are kind have made me experience a feeling of gratitude.

It is a matter of pleasure to me that the suggestions made by me were found by you to be of some benefit.

Unfortunately, the PDF which was attached by you to your email was not received by me, but hope is held by me that it will be sent by you to me. Eventually.

The final PDF is something that perhaps ought to be beheld by me, if not for the purpose of proofing, then at least for the purpose of placement by me in the archives belonging to the company of which I am Founder.

I am hopeful that this response will be found to be helpful.

By you.

Well, that’s all from me.

Best regards,


Get my drift?

If you don’t, we may need to get passive aggressive!


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.


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  1. That is classic!

    • Many thanks, David. I’m glad you dug it. 🙂

  2. I stumbled on this post today, long after the fact. Fantastic!

    • Delighted to have you aboard Ad! Especially since you taught me much of this stuff! 🙂

  3. With this argument I wholeheartedly agree. The key use of passive voice is to switch the order of the subject and object. It is important to have the correct backwards-linking information at the beginning of the sentence. This may require passive voice. Generally, I prefer active voice, but I think the passive voice has its place in scientific writing. The best thing to do is use a mix of the two. Use passive when necessary to maintain cohesion. When you do, make sure the actor is not ambiguous, be careful to check for dangling modifiers, and avoid abusive nominalizations. Make sure your passive sentences are intentional and not habitual. More important than the active vs. passive debate is the structure of your writing. Make your writing flow, connecting one sentence to the next, and it will be understandable.

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