MS word constantly complains about the use of passive voice and sometimes I struggle to find a better way to express myself. For instance, how do I say the following differently? "Despite all the windows being shut there was still a draught."

  • 1
    You don't have a passive construction in your sentence. So Word is wrong here. In cases where Word is right, you are better off regarding the feedback, not as a complaint, but as an alert to a construction you might wish to rewrite. I would suspect that in most cases you will be perfectly happy with what you have written because you have used the passive for one of the many reasons why it is the better choice.
    – Shoe
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 9:57
  • Thank you. I suspected as much but thought I'd get a 2nd opinion. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 9:59
  • Who shut the windows? Add the actor and you'll make it an active sentence.
    – rajah9
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 11:18
  • Was there an error message when you typed this actual sentence? If so, could you reproduce it exactly, please. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 13:39
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    There is nothing wrong with passive voice. It's just one more tool a writer can bring to bear. It's only bad if overused—like anything else.
    – Robusto
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 1:10

2 Answers 2


I suggest that MS Word is telling you to insert a comma: "Despite all the windows being shut**,** there was still a draught."

"Despite all the windows being shut," is a fronting free modifier, and these are offset by a comma.

  • (1) OP implies (and Shoe states) that the reason Word flags a complaint is use of a passive construction. (2) Free modifiers are often not offset by a comma, though some forms lack the comma more infrequently than others (and with some, the comma is required). See Comma after introductory words, phrases .... Checking "Despite his injuries he" in a Google search, as I expected and as I feel is ... Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 10:49
  • correct, about half the sentence-initial examples are offset by the optional comma. You need to start including references from decent works on grammar, rather than just making unsupported and sometimes inaccurate and so unhelpful claims. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 10:52
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    @Edwin Ashworth: OP implies (and Shoe states) that the reason Word flags a complaint is use of a passive construction. No... you are wrong. I suspect that is the reason that the OP thinks is the cause. ++ I am intrigued that you think that putting anything in a Google search will bring up perfect examples of punctuation - Google has a strange way of dealing with punctuation. I would have been more impressed if you had asked the OP to insert a comma and see what happens.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 13:14
  • (1) I've asked OP to clarify, always a good idea before answering an iffy question. (2) I am intrigued that you think that you have a complete command of punctuation and/or that you think that others should just accept this, and that need not bother including supporting evidence. If you looked at the linked thread, you'd find, from a publication by respected educationalist Martha Kolln, 'It is permissible, even commonplace, to omit a comma after most brief introductory elements — a prepositional phrase, an adverb, or a noun phrase ...' Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 13:37
  • @EdwinAshworth (1) I've asked OP to clarify, always a good idea before answering an iffy question. But you did not think it was "iffy" You made an assumption as to what it meant. As you do not have a copy of MSWord, I put the example in mine (2007 ed.): with and without the comma it shows no error but the OP may have a different version or auxiliary grammar checker.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 13:50

First of all, MS Word can complain all it wants about the use of the passive voice, but sometimes the passive voice is the better choice. You'll have to use your judgment. If you're writing about bees, for example, the active Bees make honey is likely better. But if you're writing about honey, the passive Honey is made by bees is likely better. You can find other good excuses for the passive voice at RIT's Use of the Passive Voice

Secondly, without any further evidence to the contrary, your example does not use the passive voice; it just happens to follow a pattern that MS Word uses to flag* a (possible) passive voice construction: a to be verb (e.g. being) + a participle (e.g. shut).

Your sentence, with its absolute phrase all the windows being shut, uses that same pattern—but it's not passive. Instead, being shut functions as an adjective to modify windows.

You can test this by rephrasing:

Despite all the shut windows, there was still a draught.

And you can further test this by swapping in a non-participle adjective:

Despite all the open windows, there was not a draught.
Despite all the windows being open, there was not a draught.

Indeed, the latter sentence—with its non-participle adjective open—will smooth MS Word's passive voice hackles.

Still reading? You do need a comma after shut, but I think that matter is for another question.

* MS Word flags things based on your Preferences settings in Spelling and Grammar. Set Writing style to Formal for the strictest review. When you see something flagged with the squiggly line, you can right click or option click it to see details regarding what it's upset about.

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