I have read that a lot of passive voice deadens the story to 2 dimensional even if you are just trying to show something that takes time when you use the passive voice.

I quite often use passive voice.

A few examples from the Rubiks World novel I am working on are:

The 17x17 was most likely to be electrocuted.

Unfortunately, the 17x17 was electrocuted.(This and the sentence above both refer to the thunderstorm that happened on the very first day before they even built shelter)

While the 15x15 was pregnant, many new things were done.

Now most of my passive voice sentences have "was" in them.

An example though of one without was is:

He could be attacked without dying.(this is referring to the collection of big cats for meat, bone, and domestication(mainly cheetahs for domestication and bigger cats for meat and bone)).

In case you are wondering why I have numbers as characters, these numbers are representing the rubiks cubes and the rubiks cubes are the characters.

So should I completely eliminate passive voice from this novel I am working on or do some sentences need to be in passive voice(like the ones referring to the thunderstorm)?

  • I think it depends on the particular style and feeling you want to evoke. Is your story sad or negative? Then go with passive voice in the narration/exposition. Also consider what genre you're writing. If it's an action/adventure thing, you should go with active voice most of the time.
    – DrZ214
    Aug 8, 2015 at 22:23

3 Answers 3


"X was most likely to be electrocuted" doesn't have an actor, so that's fine as is.

But if you have "many new things were done," tell us by whom, and what they did.

While the 15x15 was pregnant, the three-bys were busy building houses, the 9x9s dug latrines, and the lone Whip-It sat in the makeshift cage, wondering when his sentence would be carried out.

I'd say make the effort to remove passive voice whenever you can, and add detail, action, and movement in those spots.

  • Why does "x ... electrocuted" not have an actor? Of course it does! Someone or something electrocutes x.
    – user5645
    Jun 25, 2015 at 5:49
  • @what In that sentence, you're making a prediction: This event is likely to happen. Also, since electrocution is not something as common as, say, being the person who makes the coffee, I infer that electrocution has already been introduced and given context (e.g., X would have to get hit by lightning or mess around with a power generator). So either X itself is the actor (X plays with a generator) or the weather is the actor (lightning strikes X). Previous context would have supplied the actor, so I think it's okay to skip for that sentence. Jun 25, 2015 at 9:42
  • 1
    "Most likely the electricity would kill X." We need to consider, as explained in my answer, wether the paragraph focusses on X or on the source of electricity. The question does not provide enough context to decide which of the examples are "okay". But my comment was not about the appropriateness of passive voice in this example, but about the fact that every sentence has an active subject. No exceptions.
    – user5645
    Jun 25, 2015 at 11:54
  • @what The sentence has a subject, absolutely. I was saying that the sentence does not describe who or what is acting. And I liked your answer about where the focus of the sentence is; that's a great way to decide which voice to use. Jun 25, 2015 at 20:40

Completely eliminate? No.

In general, prefer active voice unless you have a specific reason to use passive.

Some reasons to use passive voice:

  • You don't know who did the action. I was carjacked on February 19, 1999. (True story.)
  • You wish to hide or deemphasize responsibility the action.
  • The person who did it is not important to the sentence at hand.
  • You wish to focus the reader on the effects of the action. After Hiroshima was bombed in August, 1945...
  • Passive voice creates a better rhythm or pace for your sentence. (Be careful with this one. Often a better solution is to recast the sentence or the context in which it appears.)
  • Yes. Just because there are lots of times when X is bad, doesn't mean that it's ALWAYS bad. IN GENERAL you shouldn't poke someone in the eye. But my eye doctor pokes me in the eye with some fancy gadget every time I visit him as part of the examination for a medical condition I have. It is rarely wise to take "always" and "never" rules literally.
    – Jay
    Jun 25, 2015 at 21:12

The use of active or passive voice is dictated by where your focus is: on the subject or object of the actiin.

Who is your sentence/paragraph/chapter about? John or Bob?

If it is about John and what he does, use the active voice:

John killed Bob.

If it is about Bob and what he experiences, use the passive voice:

Bob had been killed by John.


Should you build a car without a reverse gear just because driving backwards from New York to Baltimore would get you arrested or killed?

The abuse of passive voice by mediocre writers does not make it useless.

  • Isn't the focus on the subject in both of your example sentences--John in the first, and Bob in the second? Jun 25, 2015 at 21:09
  • @DaleHartleyEmery Oops, yes, of course. I meant the S & O of the action. Thanks. Corrected.
    – user5645
    Jun 26, 2015 at 4:32

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