Frequently Asked Question on Passive Voice   —   Part 3

In our pre­vi­ous writes, we often dis­cour­aged the usage of pas­sive voice. But in this arti­cle we would see the sce­nar­ios when pas­sive voice is the only way. By the end of this arti­cle you would real­ize that pas­sive voice is not a redun­dant gram­mar entry, it is just a style to hide non-necessary essentials.

When is pas­sive voice con­sid­ered to be good?

Some­times pas­sive voice is the best choice for writ­ing. We will look into few exam­ples when they are useful.

To mask the sub­ject and high­light the object

Let us look into this point under this example.

100 votes are required to pass the bill.

In the above exam­ple, the focus is on num­ber of votes rather than the event “bill”. Thus we can suc­cess­fully empha­size the action. An active state­ment would read like “The bill requires 100 votes to pass”. This would put less empha­sis on bill, mak­ing it less dra­matic.
To de-emphasize an unknown subject/actor.

Con­sider this example:

Over 120 dif­fer­ent con­t­a­m­i­nants have been dumped into the river.

In instances like this, when you don’t know the specifics of the actor, such as in this case, you don’t know who dumped all the con­t­a­m­i­nants in the river. When the knowl­edge about the actor is non-existent, pas­sive writ­ing helps you in report­ing the action with­out actu­ally stat­ing the actor. But if you know the actor, your clar­ity and mean­ing would be benefited.

If your read­ers don’t need to know who’s respon­si­ble for the action.

In this sce­nario it is quite dif­fi­cult to opt for the voice usage. Some instances, you delib­er­ately make the sen­tence pas­sive. This is done to high­light some fact. The catch is, try to put your­self in reader’s posi­tion and antic­i­pate his reac­tion. Here are two examples:

Baby Julie was deliv­ered at 3:30 a.m. yesterday.(passive)


Dr. Mark deliv­ered baby Julie at 3:30 a.m. yesterday.(active)

Whereas the first sen­tence is more apt for the fam­ily mem­bers or friends, the sec­ond sen­tence is of more import for the hos­pi­tal report. In first sen­tence we shift the impor­tance to the baby while in the sec­ond the focus is on doctor.

Let us now deal down to strate­gies which would facil­i­tate the pas­sive voice indication.



  • Look for the pas­sive voice: “to be” + a past par­tici­ple (usu­ally, but not always, end­ing in “-ed”).
  • If you do not see both of them, then dis­card. Else, does the sen­tence describe an action? If so, is there an actor? If there is an actor, check if it is in the gram­mat­i­cal sub­ject position.
  • Does the sen­tence end with “by..”? Many pas­sive sen­tences include the actor at the end of the sen­tence in a “by” phrase, like “The ball was hit by the player” or “The shoe was chewed up by the dog.” “By” by itself isn’t a con­clu­sive sign of the pas­sive voice, but it is an indef­i­nite indi­ca­tor for pas­sive voice.


  • Is the doer/actor men­tioned? Should you men­tion the doer?
  • Does it really mat­ter who’s respon­si­ble for the action?
  • Are you writ­ing some­thing where a reader should need to know the actor?
  • Do you want to empha­size the object?


If you observe that your sen­tence looks more ele­gant when writ­ten in active voice, switch to active voice.

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