Passive voice occurs when you take the object of your sentence—the part that the action happens to—and make it the subject of your sentence.
Here are some examples:
Passive: The flag was raised by the troops.
Active: The troops raised the flag.
Passive: An error was made by the bank in my account.
Active: The bank made an error in my account.
Passive: Sarah’s house was invaded by ghosts.
Active: Ghosts invaded Sarah’s house.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Passive Voice
Sometimes, passive voice leaves your sentence open for interpretation by the reader, especially when it’s uncertain who or what is performing the action in the sentence.
Consider these examples:
An error was made in my account. (Who made the error, you or the bank or some nefarious person bent on ill intent?)
Martial arts training was conducted in 4 schools. (Who conducted the training? Iron Fist or Jackie Chan?)
When you don’t specify who’s doing the action, it gets confusing.
But Sometimes You Have to Use Passive Voice
Sometimes you don’t know who’s performing the action, so you use a passive voice structure.
- Several contaminants have been dumped into the river.
And sometime you want to emphasize the object of the sentence, like this:
- Over two-thirds majority is required to pass the bill.
How to Identify Passive Voice
Test #1: Look for the passive use of “to be” + a past participle usually ending in “-ed”.
- The paper is to be researched thoroughly.
Test #2: If your sentence describes an action by someone or something, is the word doing the action at the front of the sentence or the end—or even missing entirely?
- The baby was delivered at 8:30 a.m.
Test #3: Does your sentence end with a “by…”?
- The ball was retrieved by the dog.
The Straight-Up Facts
Use of passive voice is not a grammatical error. It’s a style issue that helps your reader understand what you’re saying better.
Sometimes it’s OK to use passive voice, even preferable.
The best way to identify passive voice in your work is to run it through the ProWritingAid Style Report. Then you can choose what to change and what to leave alone.