A Tip on Passive Verbs

In a Better Business Writing class this week, we were talking–as we often do–about the use of passive verbs. (These are sometimes called "passive voice" verbs.) We were discussing a letter to which a contract was attached, and the letter included instructions about completing the contract.

The writer wondered whether she should use passive verbs in her letter. Here is an example of the type of sentence that concerned her:

The contract must be completed by March 20.

Her alternative would be to use an active voice verb:

You must complete the contract by March 20.

Is that too direct? Too pushy? Maybe. It depends on the tone of the entire letter. If the letter is filled with "You musts," some of them should probably be changed to passive verbs.

In her letter, though, she can easily avoid passives when writing about what she or her company must do:

We must receive your contract by March 20.

That sentence is more direct (using we) than the passive alternative:

Your contract must be received by March 20.

Note: Microsoft Office flags passive verbs if you have your grammar and spelling checker set to do so. Read about how to do that here.

Did you notice that I used four passive verbs in this post? (That is in addition to the examples.) Microsoft identified them all.

Remember: Passives do have their place, which I have written about here.