Writing teachers don’t half go on sometimes, right?
Yes, of course, wherever possible use the active voice, but there are times when the passive can come in very handy.
1. Emphasis is on what happened, not who did it.
Obama was voted the first black president.
2. You don’t know who did the action
Fire was invented a very long time ago – even before I was born.
3. Who does it is unimportant
Smoking is not allowed.
4. To stay/appear objective, scientific, technical or logical.
Her clothes were soaked, suitcase was broken and her neck, severed.
5. To appear diplomatic – especially when a mistake has been made.
An error has been made and we plan to right that wrong.
Is it any massive surprise to learn that academic papers and oops-we-made-a-boo-boo political speeches are littered with passive voice? It can be like a game of Hide the Subject out there.
Just in those few examples, you can see how the emphasis falls on a different part of the sentence, how, if you wrote them in the active, you might have someone taking blame, you might have to use — eww — one and you’d probably have all kinds of information that, quite frankly, we couldn’t give two hoots about.
So, be proud of the passive and let it have its day because it really can pack some punch when used properly.