Why passive voice is great for dishonest writers — and everyone else, too


Does the passive voice lend itself to biased, manipulative writing? A reader named Richard wanted to know after witnessing a discussion about a news article.

“Someone criticized an article on politics, implying it was slanted, saying, ‘It was full of passive-voice statements,’” he said. “I have a rudimentary understanding of the passive voice and I don’t understand what he meant.”

I do, all too well. So I can answer Richard’s question with an emphatic “yes.” Passive voice is a fantastic tool for sneaks and manipulators to slither around the truth. More often, though, it allows bad writers to write badly. And just as often, it’s used by good writers to write well.

To spot the difference, you have to know what passive voice is. Let’s start with a quiz. Is this sentence in the passive or active voice? “Bob had been planning on doing some serious thinking about becoming more accepting and being more forgiving.” Here's the answer.


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