Should you ever use the passive voice?

Posted by

A Write Now reader wrote to us to ask: is it ever acceptable to use the passive voice in ‘good writing’?

It’s a good question. You may be surprised to hear that the answer’s yes.

While it’s best to use the active voice in most cases, the passive voice can – on occasion – be useful. For example, if you had to reply to a customer or client who had made a mistake. You probably wouldn’t want to highlight this fact by pointing the finger, which writing in the active voice would do. For example:

You filled in the form incorrectly.

If you re-wrote this into the passive voice, it’s possible to be much more diplomatic, as you can take out the ‘doer’ (them) altogether:

The form was filled in incorrectly.

And sometimes the ‘who’ isn’t actually relevant. For example, if you were describing a property for sale, you might say:

The conservatory was added to the house in 1998.

That would be fine. The prospective buyers don’t really need to know that

Bob’s Conservatories of Hull added the conservatory to the house in 1998.

So there is a place for the passive voice. Just consider (as always) the needs of the reader before you choose.

And if you have any writing-related queries, why not pose them here in the blog? We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Free training: improve your emails today

Join professionals from companies like Ernst & Young and American Express who have benefited from our email-writing training.

Watch our FREE video on how to structure emails for results.