The Passive Voice is used badly when the writer tucks the real item of interest into a prepositional phrase, obscuring the agent of the verb and deflecting the emphasis. Consider these sentences:

Word of the Day The slider was hammered by Colavito into the left field bleachers.
Colavito hammered the slider into the left field bleachers.

The second places the emphasis on Colavito, the subject of the sentence and the agent of the verb  hammered.  The first places the emphasis on the slider, with Colavito relegated to a phrase following the verb, as if he and his home run were not really what the sentence is about.

Both sentences are grammatically correct. It’s just that the first, for most purposes, is less effective. Consider these:

It was determined by the committee at the last meeting that the painting of the hall should be undertaken by the Brothers Ghirlandaio.

At the last meeting, the committee determined that the Brothers Ghirlandaio should paint the hall.

Again, both are grammatically correct. But the second is more direct and concise: we know right away who is doing what. That crucial matter is all tangled up in the verbiage of the first sentence. We even have to introduce an expletive,  it,  as a placeholder subject, a meaningless blank, just to get the sentence started. That’s not incorrect. It’s often useful to begin a sentence with a blank. See the previous sentence. But here, there’s no need. Better to have the real subjects be the subjects.

Articles by Anthony Esolen

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