To combat this, new security measures have been implemented such as identification checks and on-site police officers.

The error is in bold. I've been reading online about passive voice but every time I come up with a new sentence, it has another passive voice error somewhere else. Thanks.

  • 8
    I must be thick, but I do not understand what is wrong in the above mentioned sentence... Or is it that you would prefer to avoid the passive form?
    – Paola
    May 11 '12 at 15:19
  • 7
    As has been pointed out, there is no error in the sentence. Whoever told you there was one is ignorant; ignore their grammatical advice if possible. On the other hand, the sentence would be improved if new security measures weren't separated from their examples such as identification checks .... So put them both back together and put the verb phrase at the end: To combat this, new security measures such as identification checks and on-site police officers have been implemented. May 11 '12 at 15:37
  • 2
    By the way, here is an online grammatical description you can trust of the English Passive construction that covers pretty much everything, by the pre-eminent expert on the subject, Geoff Pullum. May 11 '12 at 15:42
  • 1
    Can you implement an on-site police officer? May 11 '12 at 15:45
  • 2
    I suspect it is Microsoft Word that is highlighting the OP's passive voice "errors".
    – Shoe
    May 11 '12 at 16:21

There is no grammatical error in the sentence. If you've been told by an English teacher that there is a problem, then they are referring to a stylistic error (according to whatever guidelines they adhere to). It is possible that someone would expect you to use active voice here because the agent of the verb is known. For example, if the sentence is about security at a university:

To combat this, the university has implemented new security measures, such as identification checks and on-site police officers.

There are also many people who prescribe that you should (almost) never use passive voice. You might have one of those telling you that your sentence is wrong (which it isn't!).

  • 2
    I agree with that last sentence. The fashion for short, active sentences everywhere is really annoying. May 11 '12 at 15:48
  • 3
    It isn't even a stylistic "error." Use of passive voice is not an error at all. Even Strunk & White, which inveighs against it, does so even while using it multiple times. Use of the passive voice has been a lifesaver for me on many occasions.
    – Robusto
    May 11 '12 at 15:57
  • @Robusto I see no stylistic problem either. But you just know there are teachers out there rapping students' knuckles over this kind of thing because of their notions of how English ought to be used. May 11 '12 at 16:28
  • @SigueSigueBen Before paying much attention to ELU, I had never ever realized how much damage these nattering nabobs of negativity, with all their niggling nonsense, were doing to our children. It’s appalling how stupid they are. It’s like Feynman regarding science texts, where he decided they were all dangerous garbage to be thrown out. But they won’t be because of moneyed interests compounded with incredible stupidity/gullibility. Is there a solution?
    – tchrist
    May 11 '12 at 16:41
  • @tchris And they would hate that we use conjunctions at the beginning of our sentences. May 11 '12 at 20:58

The problem with the passive voice is that we tend to use it excessively. Because it shifts attention to the logical object by making the logical object into the grammatical subject, we do not notice the logical subject (whoever is doing the thing that gets done). Bureaucrats in particular love to use this sort of language because it literally avoids assigning responsibility.

A decision has been made to close the left lanes of the Beltway during rush hour.

That preceding sentence tidily avoids giving the poor motorists, stuck in traffic, someone specific to hate with an unending and murderous rage. :)

As a technical writer, I have learned to write very precisely. If it is important that the logical subject is unimportant, then I avoid discussing the logical subject and possibly thereby diverting attention.

Passengers are advised to keep their passports ready.

In the preceding case, it does not much matter who is doing the advising, because it is good advice, and that's the key thing that is to be noted.

To accomplish this sort of writing, the passive voice is best. Otherwise, if the logical subject is important or discussing the logical subject just does not matter, then I use an active voice.

The general drift of Strunk & White is to say what you mean and mean what you say, and do so precisely and clearly. To use the example provided with the question, a rewrite might be useful depending on the purpose of the text. If I did not like the security measures in question and wanted everyone to know who is to blame, I would write:

To combat this, the Administration has implemented new security measures such as identification checks and on-site police officers.

Likewise, I would rewrite the text into the active voice if it were for a news piece and needed to convey the 5 W's and H: who, what, when, where, why, and how. The key thing about the passive voice is that it leaves out a "who". Oftentimes, it feels more formal because doing so creates something of a distance and delay between the reader and the subject, whereas the active voice creates an immediacy and urgency.

So no, the passive voice is not bad grammar, though in many circumstances it is bad form or style - evasive where directness is called for, aloof where immediacy is more appropriate, etc.

  • 2
    But how do you define "excessively"? Perhaps it's just that a lot of the time, the identification of the subject is spurious. May 11 '12 at 17:30
  • 1
    +1 for the astute analysis of when passive voice is called for.
    – dj18
    May 11 '12 at 17:43

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