passive voice


There is a IELTS topic confused me.

Here is the topic: Children who are disinterested in subjects such as mathematics and philosophy should be made to study them at school. These subjects should be optional rather than compulsory.


When I scan if there is any grammar error by, it shows I may overuse passive voice, but this is a IELTS Topic recently held in Malaysia and Australia. How can the sentense be wrong? 


I'm about to lose confident withe the, please, is there any body can answer the question for me?


asked Sep 25 '11 at 07:36 koei1982 New member

6 answers


I noticed that many writers who give advice in creative or academic writing discourage the use of the passive voice. When you use the active voice, the message you convey is more powerful as compared to the situation when you use the passive voice. Grammarly is just advising you to rephrase the sentence so that you use the active voice instead of the passive voice. In my point of view, the use of the passive voice is not necessarily wrong, but the impact of the text on the reader will not be that strong. 

link answered Sep 25 '11 at 10:29 Aura Raducan New member

Now I'm really confuse, cause many tutor said, in order to sound more academic, you better use passive voice, I'm going to take IELTS soon, who should I listen to? koei1982Sep 25 '11 at 14:15

Just be careful not to overuse the passive voice. As long as you can answer in a grammatically correct way -- passive or active -- you'll be fine. (I've taught for the IELTS and tutored academic writing in university.) KimberlySep 26 '11 at 14:01

The impact of passive voice on the style of a piece of writing is complex. I came across a very simple but striking example of the way passive voice can alter them meaning of a statement. Imagine a politician who is delivering a speech. At some point, the politician says "It must be admitted after the report is reviewed that mistakes were made." And then read the sentence in the active voice: "I read the report, and I admit I made a mistake." This example describes the impact of passive voice on the style of your writing. Of course, I don't believe that occasional use of passive voice is incorrect, but I think that the general impact of the message of a text is altered when the writer uses the passive voice excessively. Aura RaducanSep 30 '11 at 20:01

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There is no reason to avoid the passive voice, especially in academic writing. If you are writing IELTS papers, I advise you to show that you can use the passive in the correct way, and know when an active voice is more dynamic.

link comment answered Sep 26 '11 at 07:45 Mark Heyne Expert

IELTS examiners are far from perfect, and I would say 'not interested in' rather than 'disinterested in". 'Disinterested' suggests objectivity, so we might hope that a judge is 'disinterested', not that he is bored by the case bfeore him!


If you have copied the question accurately, I do see a problem with it, as the first half is really a question:

"Why should children who are not interested in subjects such as mathematics and philosophy be made to study them at school? These subjects should be optional rather than compulsory."

link answered Sep 25 '11 at 08:00 Mark Heyne Expert

Sorry about that, I did forgot to add the last sentence. The original topic is: Children who are disinterested in subjects such as mathematics and philosophy should be made to study them at school. These subjects should be optional rather than compulsory. (To what extend do you agree or disagree.)(← I forgot this sentence.) koei1982Sep 25 '11 at 14:12

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In my humble point of view all the trouble seems to be in that explanation about passive voice: "In an active sentence we need to include the agent as a subject; using a passive allows us to omit the agent by leaving out the prepositional phrase with by. Consequently, we prefer passives when the agent:

  • is not know
  • is "people in general"
  • is unimportant
  • is obvious.

                            In factual writing, particularly in describing procedures or processes, we often wish to omit the agent, and use passives."


                            That subject is so confusing! I'm not sure that I'm on the right track!!! :) So, I can't help you as I'm ALSO needing a helping hand. Warm regards from Brazil,



link comment answered Sep 25 '11 at 23:55 Mônica Brandão New member

Two things worth noting here:


1) are disinterested doesn't need to be interpreted as a verb in the passive. It could be a verb & predicate adjective. Read more here.


2) The criterion of using or overusing a particular form is much too context-dependent to be delegated to automated checkers. In other words: trust for spotting simple errors / mistakes, but use your judgment (or native speakers' judgment) for anything more advanced - like questions about style, register, cohesion and coherence.


Personally, I'd agree with Mark Heyne here - "not interested in" would sound much better.

link comment answered Sep 27 '11 at 14:22 Wiktor Contributor

Disinterest in philosophy and mathmatics runs rampant in today's public schools.  Stop cramming such compulsory subjects into the students' heads.  I say give them options! 

link comment answered Apr 18 '13 at 05:38 Peggy Knott New member

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