Usage and Grammar

Q. I don’t rely on spelling and grammar checks as the final authority, but my program is constantly scolding me for using passive voice. There are times, particularly when I’m editing a nonfiction manuscript, that a sentence just does not seem to work any other way and I allow the author’s words to stand. I’m more concerned with making certain the sentence flows well, makes a transition when needed, and has clarity for the reader. Is passive voice really all that bad? “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

A. You seem to have good sense (well, aside from the Obi-Wan Kenobi stuff). First, it’s extreme and limiting to avoid all use of the passive; and second, grammar checkers are rather limited and inflexible.