Using Passive Voice Effectively in Writing

Key Takeaways

– Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence is acted upon, rather than performing the action itself.
– Active voice is usually preferred because it is clearer and more concise.
– Passive voice can be used strategically to emphasize the fact of an action or when the doer is unknown.
– It is important to use passive voice intentionally and not accidentally.


When it comes to writing, one of the most debated topics is the use of passive voice. Many writing guides and experts advise against using passive voice, claiming that it makes writing unclear and less engaging. However, there are instances where passive voice can be used effectively and strategically. In this article, we will explore when it is appropriate to use passive voice and how to use it effectively to enhance your writing.

The Basics of Passive Voice

Before diving into when to use passive voice, let’s first understand what it is. Passive voice is a grammatical construction where the subject of the sentence is acted upon, rather than performing the action itself. It is characterized by the use of forms of the verb “to be,” such as “is,” “was,” “were,” or “has been.” For example, “The cake was baked by Sarah” is a passive voice sentence, while “Sarah baked the cake” is an active voice sentence.

When to Avoid Passive Voice

In most cases, active voice is preferred over passive voice. Active voice is clearer, more concise, and generally more engaging for readers. It allows for a direct and straightforward communication of the action and the doer. Active voice is especially important in persuasive writing, where you want to convey a sense of authority and conviction. Additionally, active voice is often used in journalistic writing, where the focus is on reporting facts and events.

Using Passive Voice Strategically

While active voice is generally preferred, there are instances where passive voice can be used strategically. One such instance is when you want to emphasize the fact of an action rather than the doer. For example, “Mistakes were made” puts the focus on the mistakes themselves, rather than attributing them to a specific person. This can be useful in situations where assigning blame is not necessary or when you want to create a sense of objectivity.

When the Doer is Unknown

Passive voice can also be used when the doer of the action is unknown or unimportant. For example, “The car was stolen” does not specify who stole the car, but rather focuses on the fact that it was stolen. This can be useful in crime reporting or when discussing general actions without needing to attribute them to a specific individual.

Using Passive Voice Intentionally

When using passive voice, it is important to do so intentionally and not accidentally. Accidental use of passive voice can lead to unclear and convoluted writing. To ensure that you are using passive voice effectively, consider the following tips:

1. Be Clear on Your Purpose

Before using passive voice, ask yourself why you are choosing to do so. Is it to emphasize the action, obscure the doer, or create a sense of objectivity? Understanding your purpose will help you use passive voice strategically and effectively.

2. Use Active Voice Whenever Possible

As mentioned earlier, active voice is generally preferred. Whenever you can clearly and concisely convey the action and the doer using active voice, opt for it. This will make your writing more engaging and easier to understand.

3. Keep Sentences Clear and Concise

When using passive voice, be mindful of sentence length and clarity. Long and convoluted passive voice sentences can confuse readers and make your writing less effective. Aim for clear and concise sentences that convey your message effectively.


In conclusion, the use of passive voice in writing is a topic that sparks much debate. While active voice is generally preferred for its clarity and conciseness, there are instances where passive voice can be used strategically. By understanding when and how to use passive voice effectively, you can enhance your writing and engage your readers. Remember to use passive voice intentionally and not accidentally, and always strive for clear and concise communication in your writing.

Written by Martin Cole

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