To Be or Not To Be – Ask the Ultimate Passive Voice Questions
"If passive voice is your sticking point, try looking for every "to be" verb in all its forms (be, to be, is, am, are, was, were, has been) followed by a past participle (the past form of a verb, like "given).
- Passive: The law firm was disqualified by the court because of a conflict of interest.
- Changed to Active: The court disqualified the law firm because of a conflict of interest.
- Passive: The defendant's settlement proposal has been rejected by my client.
- Changed to Active: My client rejected the defendant's settlement proposal.
- Passive: Witnesses must be carefully interviewed before a trial.
- Changed to Active: Lawyers must carefully interview witnesses before a trial.
Then ask yourself, “Do I have a good reason for using the passive voice?”
|There are some very good reasons for using the passive voice:|
|Where the actor is unknown or unimportant||The files were destroyed last month.|
|To deflect attention from the actor||Mistakes were made.|
|To emphasize what was done rather than who did it.||The plaintiff’s teeth were knocked out.|
|To state a general rule.||Before the law, all persons are considered equal.|
|To put the most importtant idea as the subject of the sentence.||Communicating your legal analysis clearly is considered persuasive by a court.|
|To emphasize an important word in a sentence by putting it last.||Smith was convinced to give up his claim by Jones' false representation.|
|To create smooth transitions||The court ruled against the plaintiffs. The ruling was explained to the plaintiffs by their counsel.|
If you don’t have a good reason to use the passive voice, make the change to the active voice.
Here are passive voice sentences. Change those you think would be better in the active voice.
Testimony was given by the doctor that the patient consented to the operation.
The doctor testified that the patient consented to the operation.
The judge was informed that the jury had reached a verdict.
The foreman informed the judge that the jury had reached a verdict.
On the other hand, if we don’t need the reader to know who informed the judge, then the original passive voice sentence is fine.
The court recognized that the plaintiff’s letter could be admitted as a declaration against interest sufficient to support a motion to dismiss.
The court admitted the plaintiff’s letter as a declaration against interest, supporting the defendant’s motion to dismiss.
The evidence was misplaced.
Passive voice works well in this sentence because we don’t know how the evidence was misplaced. Or perhaps it doesn't matter who misplaced it; the fact that it was misplaced is all that counts. Or perhaps we don’t want to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that our client had control over the evidence when it went missing.
The plaintiff’s leg was broken during the rugby game.
Passive voice works well in this sentence because we want to downplay that fact that the plaintiff broke his leg when our client aggressively tackled him during a rugby game.
Testimony was given by the defendant that supports the plaintiff's negligence claim.
The defendant’s testimony supports the plaintiff’s negligence claim.