Talk:English passive voice

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It obscures the subject[edit]

"Many English educators and usage guides, consider passive voice as bad practice because it obscures the subject or adds unnecessary ambiguity." says the article (emphasis added). Shouldn't it be "... obscures the agent ..."? Jimp 7Dec05

  • I would say many American educators and usage guides consider passive voice as bad practice; I don't think that is true in Britain judging from the frequent use of the passive voice not only in newscasts/printed newspapers, but also in literature. Could anyone comment please ?


(I think maybe "English" there meant the language, not the nationality? Valid point, though, nonetheless. Overuse of any pattern/construction is bad practice, of course; outlawing one rather than emphasizing variation is just simple unimaginative laziness. And silly. Ever try to write anything following APA style? Ugh. I say it's high time we rehabilitate the passive...er...it's high time the passive was rehabilitated! RJCraig 22:17, 10 January 2006 (UTC))


American media over-use the passive voice too. It's such a convenient way to obfuscate. Occasionally it is useful and appropriate, but most often it is a poor choice. BTW I laughed out loud when I stumbled across this article and saw the cleanup tag, but when I started reading, I saw why. How is it that an article that should ultimately promote clarity is so confusing? I will take a stab at it in the next few days. Laura1822 03:25, 8 September 2006 (UTC)


Modern American style guides shun the passive voice because their main goals are brevity and clarity, both of which the passive voice impedes. The passive voice also makes writing less forceful. In general, one should avoid the passive voice unless it's absolutely necessary. —Casey J. Morris 19:03, 21 April 2006 (UTC)
Perhaps being forceful all of the time isn't ideal? This is really such an American critiscism, and I think it highlights the difference between the cultures, the brash and forceful American culture that simply can't tolerate explicitly pointing out a persons mistakes at every opportunity, compared to the more laid back British culture. 108.131.27.37 (talk) 09:21, 2 September 2012 (UTC)
This is rubbish. Pure superstition. Please, read [1], in which Churchill, surely an practitioner of 'forceful' writing, uses between 25% and 50% active verbs. Then read [2], in which Strunk himself cannot follow his injunction against the passive. Please, be careful when editing the article: saying the passive 'makes writing less forceful' or 'impedes brevity and clarity' is POV, plain and simple. It is, on the other hand, NPOV, and a good thing, to point out that Modern American style guides shun the passive voice - they do. It's POV when you agree with them without evidence! --Dom


Rubbish and pure superstition it is. In many cases use of the passive improves brevity, clarity & forcefulness. Jɪmp 21:19, 25 September 2007 (UTC)


Very often, the subject of an active sentence is NOT suppressed in the corresponding passive sentence:
"The Empire State Building has been named by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World." [1]
So, obviously, the passive doesn't only function as a means of suppressing the subject. Another function of the passive is to indicate which part of the sentence is new information[2], because readers tend to expect given information at the BEGINNING of a sentence rather than at the END. In those instances where the subject of an active sentence is NEW, but the object is GIVEN, writers will often make use of passivization as a means of fronting the given information of a sentence (Although admittedly, most writers are probably not consciously aware of their motivation for doing this.). (Note that, in the above example, the Empire State Building had been introduced in the preceding paragraph.) — Preceding unsigned comment added by ‎108.131.27.37 (talkcontribs)

Self-published source[edit]

A new section, headed "Choice of auxiliary verb", was added to this page on 25 January 2011. In the several days since, other editors have added to it, and some of those changes were rejected by yet other editors.

Although the analysis in the section is generally correct, I find it troubling in that it is sourced to a single blog posting. That blog is by Geoffrey K. Pullum, who is undoubtedly an expert in the field of grammar and linguistics. He is, for example, co-author of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Nonetheless, the WP:Verifiablity policy suggests that self-published sources generally should be avoided. Self-published sources from experts are acceptable, but if other sources are available, these should be preferred. I therefore suggest that this section be rewritten with reference to CGEL or other authoritative (i.e. not self-published) sources.

I have left the content of this section intact, but have hidden it using comment tags. Cnilep (talk) 05:01, 3 February 2011 (UTC)

The examples that have been hidden are:
  • The car got overtaken by the motorbike. ← The motorbike overtook the car.
  • John had his photo taken in front of the tree. ← [Someone] took John's photo, John being in front of the tree.
  • Mary saw the clock tower struck by lightning. ← Mary saw lightning strike the clock tower.
The first example is clearly correct; the "got" passive is certainly a passive, as the lede of this article mentions in passing. And I think that we should add a section on it: at least two points should be made: (1) it tends (citation needed!) to imply adverse consequences for the patient; and (2) sometimes got + passive participle does not imply the passive, as in he got married, which denotes an action on his part -- it means he became a person who has married where both became and married are active and married is an intransitive participle.
However, the second and third examples are wrong, and they don't appear in the indicated source. Instead, that source has examples in which those verbs appear in the same sentence as but a difference clause than a passive construction. John had his photo taken means something active: John induced his photo to be taken. (To be taken is a passive with patient photo, but that's not the point of the example.) And in Mary saw, obviously the subject is the agent -- Mary saw, not Mary was seen.
So I'm deleting the incorrect hidden examples. Also, I'll put in this source in order to add some other useful info. Duoduoduo (talk) 20:48, 9 July 2011 (UTC)

Order of sections[edit]

I still think it would be preferable to begin with the sections on construction of the passive, and to follow those with sections on usage of the passive and (mis)identification of the passive, probably in that order. The problem with the current order is that the section on "identifying" the passive is not really very good, and is not going to be, unless we give a full account of all the various forms that are or might be called passives - and that's what the construction sections do. In other words, if we tell people how the passive is constructed, we've effectively told them how to identify it, so we don't then need a separate section for the latter purpose (we can just have a section at the end about how some people misidentify passives). Victor Yus (talk) 07:13, 15 November 2012 (UTC)

Another thing is the structure of the "usage and style" section; it seems all backwards at the moment. We should first say why people use the passive, and then report (not necessarily in separate for and against sections) on the various style advice that has been written concerning its use. Victor Yus (talk) 07:28, 15 November 2012 (UTC)

I really don't want to see this article go the way of Wikipedia's articles on mathematics, which so often are meaningful only to those who already know the subject matter. Someone who is not already knowledgeable about the passive voice is simply not going to work his or her way through the sections on construction of the passive.
I think you're right on the structure of the usage and style section (notwithstanding that I wrote the original version of that), and I urge you to improve it. John M Baker (talk) 16:35, 15 November 2012 (UTC)
They can always scroll down to the bits that interest them... All right, will try to restructure the usage and style and some other sections as and when time allows. Victor Yus (talk) 14:44, 16 November 2012 (UTC)

The "in favor of" section requires a massive rewrite.[edit]

The categories imply mutual exclusivity—not supported by the content. The content in both categories supports the idea that passive voice has value. My suggestion: combine the two. Focus on what ways passive voice has value. Ordinarily, i'd be bold and do it myself, but passive voice seems to provoke strong feelings. Fluous (talk) 23:15, 26 March 2013 (UTC)

I think it would probably be advantageous to combine the two sections, like you say. There isn't a straightforward dichotomy of views. Victor Yus (talk) 08:50, 27 March 2013 (UTC)
I'd say that there is a real dichotomy of views. Opponents of the passive voice tend to be quite emphatic (in their rhetoric, not in their practice) in their view that the passive voice should be avoided whenever possible. Other writers take a more moderate approach and instead emphasize the passive voice's uses. John M Baker (talk) 19:58, 27 March 2013 (UTC)
But it's largely a question of emphasis, I'd have thought - both "sides" accept realistically that there are places where the passive is appropriate, and places where it is not. I haven't thought about it in detail, but I would expect that a better account of the dialog between these "sides" could be given in the form of a single section, without forced separation. Victor Yus (talk) 09:54, 28 March 2013 (UTC)

Passival?![edit]

Where is this supposed tense in Shakespeare, for instance, or any English literature before the supposed terminus ante quem for this supposedly "lost" tense? Was "it" ever standard? Is this being confused with the prefix a-, on-?

a- 1.a reduced form of the Old English preposition on, meaning “on,” “in,” “into,” “to,” “toward,” preserved before a noun in a prepositional phrase, forming a predicate adjective or an adverbial element ( afoot; abed; ashore; aside; away ), or before an adjective ( afar; aloud; alow ), as a moribund prefix with a verb ( acknowledge ), and in archaic and dialectal use before a present participle in -ing ( set the bells aringing ); and added to a verb stem with the force of a present participle ( ablaze; agape; aglow; astride; and originally, awry ).

This needs to be better attested or thrown out as attempted pedantry. The notion that it was done away by the Romantics (whoever they were - Wordsworth et al., or the Germans?) is as bad as the most preposterous folk etymologies going. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 173.25.13.90 (talk) 02:31, 23 April 2014‎

Merger proposal[edit]

The pages Pseudo-passive and Pseudopassivization redirect to a section of this page: English passive voice#Prepositional passive. I believe they should instead redirect to Impersonal passive voice. You can participate in the merger discussion here. Joeystanley (talk) 19:10, 30 April 2014 (UTC)

Like I wrote on the other discussion, the proposal does not appear to involve a merger as such. W. P. Uzer (talk) 07:06, 1 May 2014 (UTC)