It’s not bad advice to suggest avoiding the passive. I’ve done it myself. Active sentences are usually shorter, clearer and easier to read. But when is the passive the right choice?

Just to recap what we’re talking about, here are active and passive versions of the same sentence:

Active: Tenfour designed the presentation (subject, verb, object)
Passive: The presentation was designed by Tenfour (object, verb, subject)

My word processor is already showing me a wiggly green line under the passive version, and suggesting that I should consider revising. Here are some good reasons to ignore that nagging green suggestion when writing:

  • To avoid taking the blame. A popular one for politicians, consider the difference between “A mistake has been made” (passive) and “We have made a mistake” (active).
  • When you don’t know who the subject is. Contrast “The votes were counted” (passive) with “? counted the votes” (active).
  • To make a statement less aggressive. “The invoice has not been paid” (passive) sounds less accusatory than “You have not paid this invoice”.
  • For emphasis. “Over 9,000 people were hugged by the Hug Machine 2000™” (passive) emphasises just how many hugs were had in a way that “The Hug Machine 2000™ hugged over 9,000 people” (active) does not.

And the final reason? When it just sounds better. I do suggest making most of your sentences active, but if it’s a matter of style, rules are there to be broken.

Still not ready to get back to work? Then have a look at some more great writing tips, like how to keep your writing simple or what makes a killer slogan.