When You SHOULD Use Passive Voice

So we’ve talked about the passive voice and why we don’t use it. And now, we’re talking about when it’s okay to use.

The first time we chatted about the passive voice, I cited the great Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Good ol’ TJ embraced the passive voice. Let’s talk about why.

Statue of Liberty Declaration

Photo by SJ Pinkney

When you use the active voice, you are indicating that the agent (the one who initiates the action) is the most important part of the sentence. The puppy rolled on the grass. Angie rolled with the puppy.

If the object of the action is the most important part of the sentence, that’s when the passive voice becomes your ally. Passive voice can be used to indicate that your readers should be paying attention to the object of the sentence instead of the agent. The ant colony that Angie and the puppy were rolling on was frantically trying to escape the earthquake.

Thomas Jefferson used it to indicate that the object “all men” was the important part of his Declaration. You can use it to indicate that the anthill that Angie and the puppy are rolling on is the important part of the story.

Keep your use in moderation though. It can get exhausting reading sentence after sentence of passive voice.

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PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to write from the perspective of an ant/a bird/a fly/a DVD of Clueless that is in the background of another story. Use the passive voice where appropriate to indicate which story the reader should be focusing on. Post your practice in the comments, and make sure you leave some helpful tips for your fellow writers.

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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