The Passive Voice

The Language Log has done a great job of noting a lot of the nonsense that goes on in "critiques" of use of the passive voice. (The critics often cannot even correctly identify the passive voice!) One of the frequent complaints of critics is that the passive voice is a way of "hiding responsibility" for the action performed in the sentence in question. But John McWhorter, in the course I mentioned in the post below, points out that the passive voice can actually be used to highlight agency. He gives the following example:

"This message was brought to you by the makers of Tide."

The "makers of Tide" did not phrase this in this fashion to hide the fact that they sponsored this show! By placing the agent in this unusual position, they were drawing attention to themselves, not hiding.

The passive voice is a perfectly fine grammatical construct. Just don't overuse it.


  1. That's what I enjoyed the most when I wrote for Wikipedia -- they'd teach me grammar by heavily criticizing my writing. Unfortunately, since then I've forgotten most of what I should have learned.


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