Listening to an Apologist for–Ugh–Passive Voice

When I ask profs in our WI workshops to list their top five grammar/mechanics peeves, passive voice always ranks near #1 for me.

Specifying who did what to whom forces writers to clarify their ideas and usually livens their prose.

Of course, our workshop also acknowledges disciplinary differences since the sciences often favor passive voice for its objective veneer and emphasis on results rather than agents.

But as linguist Geoffrey Pullum points out in a rant for the Chronicle of Higher Ed, a rule like “don’t use the passive voice”–like all writing rules–begs to be broken.  If good writing could be boiled down to simple vaccines, we could simply innoculate our students.


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