The Do's and Don'ts of Passive Voice

Explaining the 7 Common Uses of Passive Voice

After my last article on active vs passive voice, many of you asked me questions about when to use passive voice.

Today, I’ll show you the 7 scenarios for when you should use passive voice. At the end of this article, you’ll find an amazing infographic on this topic (it took our team 4 days to make). Enjoy!

Rule of Thumb: Use active voice, unless you need to shift the reader’s focus away from the doer.

English sentences have three parts: a doer, an act, and a thing being acted on. Use active voice when the doer matters. Use passive voice when the doer doesn’t matter or isn’t known.

Want to write better prose? Introducing my 12-Day Prose Masterclass. This online writing course will teach you: Show, Don't tell, Dialogue, Pacing... and many more!

Write better with:
 Clear phrasing!
 Vivid descriptions!
 Natural dialogue!
 Well-paced narratives!
 Realistic characters!
 Rich inner monologues!

Risk-Free Guarantee:
Try my 12-Day Prose Masterclass today and see your writing improve. With my 100% money-back guarantee, take no risks on your first step to writing better!

Seven Common Uses of Passive Voice

  1. When writing about events where the doer is unknown (eg. crimes).
    “Sixteen cars were stolen in Toronto last week.” → Perpetrator unknown.
    “My lunch was taken from the employee fridge.” → By a thief.

  2. In scientific reports and technical manuals.
    “The catalyst is flushed with inert nitrogen gas.” → Scientific procedure.
    “The goldfish must be left to acclimatize to the water.” → Instructions.

  3. When the recipient of the action matters more than the doer.
    “Our baby was delivered at 3AM.” → The doctor doesn’t matter.
    “Emma was shocked by her near-death experience.” → Focus on Emma.

  4. To avoid blame.
    “Severe mistakes were made in the company’s market strategy.” → Don’t blame the manager, blame the strategy.

  5. In factual statements where the doer is implied.
    “Nearly 2 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer in 2023.” → Diagnosed by doctors, of course.

  6. In statements about social consensus.
    “Farting in public is seen as rude.” → By just about everyone.

  7. To soften the tone in professional communication.
    “Your message has been received.” → Sounds more polite than “We got your message”.

Infographic: Focus Your Writing - Active vs Passive Voice

Download it, print it, and share it with your friends. It’s yours to keep. ❤️ 

Join the conversation

or to participate.