My last blog post was about hiding clues in subordinate clauses, and I just talked to someone who uses grammar in a different way to hide information. (It's been a great week for grammar tidbits!)

An old friend who is a lawyer says he always uses active voice in his briefs except when he has a piece of information that looks bad for his case. Then he switches to passive voice because he thinks people gloss over passive sentences more easily than active sentences. He thinks when something is in passive voice, it doesn't draw as much attention.

Interesting approach. If you're a lawyer, do you deliberately switch between active and passive like this?

Mignon Fogarty is better known online as Grammar Girl. Read her article about active voice versus passive voice.
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Published on April 24, 2012 10:17 • 2,779 views • Tags: grammar, mystery
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message 1: by Samantha (new)

Samantha Lisk That's an interesting approach. However, it seems like that would make things stick out more. Rarely-used techniques tend to draw more attention when they are eventually used. Maybe it's a difference between the types of writing (i.e. legal briefs vs. novels)?


message 2: by Annette (new)

Annette Oh, definitely. That's a common technique in situations where you want to avoid pointing out who did the action. Businesses often use it to avoid saying that THEY caused damage or dropped a ball. Passive voice doesn't necessarily stand out; a lot of people don't even know what it is, and it's used a ton in legal, business, and even news situations, so we hear it all the time. Great way to deflect blame.


message 3: by Phyllis (new)

Phyllis I'm not a lawyer, but am a retired Department of the Army Civilian. I wrote policy and other instructive documents throughout my career. I used passive writing when I needed to obscure the party responsible for performing an action or when it wasn't necessary to identify the responsible party. That usually happened when I wrote after action reports or other type of correspondence. Otherwise, I found that writing in the active voice is the only effective way to write the policies that direct a specific someone or some organization to perform a specific act. It does no good to say test and evaluation must be done. It provides those who are responsible for testing and evaluating a cop-out for not having done it since the responsible party is never identified.

Here's my passive/active story: Writing policy for the Army was done by me. When I first assumed the policy-writing position, I was sent to a class to learn how to write properly. During that class, I was taught to write in the active voice. This skill was applied to my policy writing. The first draft submitted was returned to me with instructions to re-write in the passive voice. A discussion ensued, and writing in the active voice was allowed. (Shift from writing in the passive voice to writing in the active voice:) My boss approved the draft as I'd originally written it (in the active voice) and sent it up the chain for further review and ultimate approval.


message 4: by Claire (new)

Claire My husband uses passive voice in arguments with me to accuse me of something and then be able to say he didn't actually accuse me!


message 5: by Brian (new)

Brian Whenever I hear passive voice I hear someone trying to hide something. So for me, that doesn't work.


message 6: by Judy (new)

Judy As an community college composition instructor, I am amazed and thrilled that intelligent readers are even having a conversation about the passive voice--much less the nuances of its use. WOO HOO!!


message 7: by Samantha (new)

Samantha Lisk Judy wrote: "As an community college composition instructor, I am amazed and thrilled that intelligent readers are even having a conversation about the passive voice--much less the nuances of its use. WOO HOO!!"

Haha I was an English major. I received my degree partly through my ability to discern and understand different writing techniques and to use them myself. I certainly ought to be able to have a conversation about them! ;-)


message 8: by Judy (new)

Judy . . . and as A community college teacher, I should proofread more carefully before hitting "post"!!
LOL (might as well . . . beats crying)


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