Monday, March 23, 2009

You may use passive.

I suggest you avoid passive most of the time, especially in business writing. But, as we said in the previous post, many people prefer passive voice when they must discipline employees. On these occasions, they say, "The report was not completed on time" as opposed to "You did not complete the report on time."

In any event, consider using the passive in these circumstances, as well:

1)When you don't know who did the action.
2)When the readers don't care who did the action.
3)When the receiver of the action is more important than the doer.
4)When you don't want the reader to know who did the action.

In the case of #1, a passive sentence in the newspaper might read, "Last night valuable records from the Social Security offices in downtown Altoona were stolen." No one knows who did the action.

As for #2, a newspaper sentence might read, "Valuable records should always be kept locked in a safe." No one cares who's going to lock them.

With #3 above, a sentence in the Altoona Mirror might read, "Guard Julio O'Brian was shot last night as he fought to protect valuable records that were being stolen at the Social Security office." Julio is the important character in this drama.

And, for #4, a sentence might read, "Mayor Lester Fester was rumored to have considered resigning over the lack of security at the Social Security office which was recently burgled." The person who started the rumor does not want to be identified.

Passive has its uses, as you can see. But, again, when you want action, which is the case with most business writing, you are well advised to prefer the active voice. Or, you may end up with the kind of stuff you read in the previous post (to which I add some more humdingers that just occurred to me):

Patrick Henry's famous cry, "I will be given liberty or I will be given death by you."

George H W Bush, "Allow my lips to be read by you- no new taxes."

Some other well meaning presidential hopeful, "Your pain is felt by me."

The passive just doesn't rally the troops, does it?

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