Oh Passive voice I do love you

Hey you grammarly gurus…stop picking on the passive voice will you? Stop waging war on the long and convoluted. Stop forcing voices into active-wear versions.

I’m fond of the passive in action. A little convolution is better than none. A little twisty turn-y is my cup of tea and too much action gives me the yawns. But all advice points to the concise. The elimination of the poor old passive voice.

Did a sudden thought strike her mind or was she struck by a sudden thought? The latter I think. Was the pig caught in a trap or did the trap catch the pig?* The former of course.

She was struck by a thought. Why? Because the thought was kind enough to do the work. Was kind enough to spare her the bother. Perhaps she was taking time out, having a little break from being master of destiny. Thank-you passive voice, for swooping in and doing your thing.

And if passive’s good enough for Jane Austen then it’s quite alright with moi. Her wry style depends on it, one would argue, and let me be the very one, as such, to argue. Take, for example:

…This roused a general astonishment, and he (Mr Bennet) had the pleasure of being eagerly questioned by his wife and five daughters at once…” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Now, let all participants of the Bennet household slip into their activewear and see what happens…

“…All the Bennets felt generally astonished and Mr Bennet’s five daughters and wife began to question him at once. Mr Bennet felt right pleased about that…” (note I’ve omitted the evil adverb ‘eagerly’ as well)

Yep. Thought so. It’s a mistake to venerate the active voice, chase away the passive for the sake of fashion. Style is what sets writers apart. Let’s not swallow rules whole without testing them first. Let’s not believe that passivity is a crime. That because we don’t act our words will be weaklings.

Passive plays a big part in expressing our experience of the world and I wouldn’t want to be without it. The passive exists because the world acts upon us, all manner of things happen and we can’t control that.

So, I say, relax into the passive and let thoughts strike our mind, let pigs be caught in traps and let pleasure be had.

  • NB: I do not condone the catching of pigs in traps and no pigs were harmed in the making of this post.

2 thoughts on “Oh Passive voice I do love you

  1. I believe that everything has its place in writing, from the passive voice to the adverb. For every ‘essential writing tip’ ever written are five famous authors who’ve broken them, so I’ve started taking writing advice less seriously. Thanks for this post!


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