Wise words about the much-too-criticized passive voice

|The Volokh Conspiracy |


Prof. Geoffrey Pullum (Chronicle of Higher Education, Lingua Franca) has some wise words about the passive voice, and about when it's perfectly proper. An example:

If you were to take a sentence like Smith was arrested, indicted, and found guilty, but the money was never recovered and try to wrestle it into the active voice, as so many writing guides insist you should, you would have to find subjects for all the active verb phrases. You'd need subjects for arrested Smith (the police department? the county sheriff?), and indicted him (a grand jury, as in the U.S.? the Crown Prosecution Service, as in Britain?), and for found him guilty (a judge? a trial jury?), and for recovered the money (the detectives? some bank or post office? the people whose cash had been stolen?). Implementing this pointless and clumsy elaboration would make the sentence nearly twice as long.

There's more; check out the whole post. Thanks to my colleague Steve Yeazell for the pointer.