Usage and Grammar

Q. I was told this was passive voice and therefore “avoidant”: “If your suspension from this section was not lifted on time, then that was a mistake and I’m sorry that happened.” Is this so?

A. “Was not lifted” is indeed passive, and it is “avoidant” in this sentence because it allows the writer to avoid identifying who failed to lift the suspension on time. This use of the passive deserves its bad reputation, but in good writing a mix of active and passive is essential for variation and eloquence, as you will find in any classic of English literature. (Strunk and White use the passive throughout The Elements of Style after famously recommending against it.) The idea that the passive must be avoided is a superstition that language professionals long ago abandoned, although the prohibition remains popular.