The Passive Aggressive Files

Here’s a new recurring post that will feature amusing real-world uses of the passive voice to hide, conceal blame, or soften criticism. This first one includes all three!

I’m going to start a recurring post that I’ll call The Passive Aggressive Files. These are amusing real-world uses of the passive voice to hide, conceal blame, or soften criticism. (This first episode includes all three!) Hope you enjoy it. And if you have examples you’d like to share, please let me know — at

One of my clients copied me on an email thread today, discussing the progress of a document that I’ve been helping them write. The back-and-forth in this email didn’t actually involve me at all — but I’m glad they thought to include me, or I would’ve missed this passive-voice brawl…

Employee 1: Did you ever send me the sample invoices we need for the proposal document?

Notice how we start out using a straightforward, active voice — ”Did you ever send me….” No need to hide behind the passive voice… yet.

Employee 2: No sample invoices were sent. I don’t believe I was asked for any.

Boom. Employee 2 throws the first passive-voice punch.

Employee 1: A request was definitely made for sample invoices. We will need them to complete the billing questions in the proposal.

Pow! Employee 1 isn’t backing down!

Employee 2: If a request was sent for sample invoices, perhaps a copy of that email could be shown to me.

Oh yeah? Prove it, Employee 1!

Employee 1: The request might have been verbal; please send us three sample invoices, issued this calendar year, ASAP.

Okay, maybe I forgot to ask you. Sorry.

I love the passive voice. Every time I hear or read it, laughter is caused within me.

About the Author

Robbie Hyman is a professional communications and public affairs writer. He has 15 years’ experience writing for nonprofits, small business and multibillion-dollar international organizations and is available as a freelance writer for federal agencies.

Robbie has written thousands of pages of content, including white papers, speeches, published articles, reports, manuals, newsletters, video scripts, advertisements, technical document and other materials. He is also co-founder of, an online course that teaches smart money habits to teenagers.