Is It Passive Voice?

Carolyn Hax’s April 24 advice column featured a woman who was planning a destination wedding. Some members of her family weren’t able to travel, and the bride-to-be was anticipating problems about her wedding plans: “There will be an irreparable rift.”

Carolyn responded with “Only if you decide to create one, so stop hiding behind the passive voice.”

I don’t have any advice of my own for the bride, but I want to make a grammatical point. “There will be” isn’t really passive voice. I’d call it impersonal. The bride-to-be is taking the human factor out of a situation that is very much about people, their values, and their feelings.

As far as I can tell, grammar doesn’t help here. “There is” doesn’t seem to fall into the category of impersonal verbs (such as “It’s raining”). Grammarians put “There is” into the expletive category.

(I’m going to take a brief detour into my longstanding gripe about formal grammar: It doesn’t help. There! Done!)

My point today is that I agree with Carolyn Hax. Language can be used to clarify and connect – or to manipulate and conceal. Choose your words carefully!

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