Why do people write passive voice

One reason people write passive voice is to intentionally leave out the actor. For example, timid bosses wouldn't want to write this sentence:

I have decided everybody must work this weekend.

The actor is I—who may seem pretty exposed to gripes and other criticism from the people who can't go sailing or skiing during the weekend. So some bureaucrats, to avoid responsibility, tend to put such a sentence in passive voice and then eliminate the by prepositional phrase:

It has been determined by-me that you must work this weekend.

Now, through the magic of passive voice, the boss is in the clear. After all, who can find the subject of that sentence— "It"—to gripe to?

But this reason—avoiding responsibility—actually accounts for only a small percentage of the sentences in passive voice. After all, only a few key sentences in any document are ones in which people must accept or avoid responsibility.

A second reason people write passively is that they try to avoid using personal pronouns like we and you. However, unless they use personal pronouns, passive voice is the natural result.

So pronouns are the key. In fact, bosses who say, "Write in plain English, but don't use any personal pronouns," are like home builders who say, "Build me a nice house, but— hey—I don't like hammers, so don't use them." Hard to build a house without hammers, and hard to write plain English without pronouns.

And a third reason people write passively? They just do. They start in passive voice and then just stay in passive voice. Without much effort at all, they could easily have written the same ideas actively.

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