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I have requested an agent to cancel my tickets in email as shown below

It helps if I get a confirmation once the request to cancellation of the ticket has been updated.

But, my Outlook (this is Microsoft email application, which uses the dictionaries and rules from Word) shows an error prompt for grammar correction.

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It says "Passive voice (consider revising)"

So, what is wrong here? What is "passive voice"?

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    What's wrong is using Microsoft's grammar checker. Turn it off and the problem goes away. Or: set it so that it doesn't object to passive voice. There's nothing wrong with using the passive voice, on the whole. – Andrew Leach May 22 at 10:47
  • what is passive voice actually? – kudlatiger May 22 at 15:52
  • There's a better site for this question. – Andrew Leach May 22 at 16:06
  • Microsoft Word always has this. That said, your sentence is not grammatical. It would help if I could get confirmation once my ticket cancellation request has been updated. [culturally relevant] – Lambie May 22 at 16:49
  • And it didn't flag "the request to cancellation"? – Acccumulation May 22 at 18:11
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The passive voice is a construction which emphasises the object of the action ("My bike was stolen!") rather than the subject . It is the opposite of active voice ("Someone stole my bike!")

Some native speakers think that the passive voice sounds dull, and the active voice sounds exciting. As a matter of style, there is nothing wrong with it when used correctly. Many automated "style advisors" report passive voice as if it is an error, but really it's up to you. I would recommend all non-native learners to aim for clarity first, and better style can come later.

EF gives good examples for recognising passive and active voice.

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    Microsoft is always whining about this. It is so annoying when one actually wants a passive form. – Lambie May 22 at 16:47
  • @Lambie yes sometimes it's exactly what is needed. – jonathanjo May 22 at 17:46
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Passive voice is when the clause is worded in such a way that the recipient of the action is presented as being the subject of the verb, while the performer of the action is either omitted entirely or presented as being an indirect object. The preceding sentence has four examples of the passive voice. In the phrase "the clause is worded", "the clause" is the subject of the verb "is", even though is it is the recipient of the action of being worded. Similarly, "recipient of the action is presented", "performer of the action is omitted" and "performer of the action is [...] presented as being an indirect object" are passive voice.

All four of those examples are cases where the performer of the action is omitted: you are not told who words the clause, who presents the recipient of the action as being the subject of the verb, who omits the performer of the action, or who presents the performer of the action as an indirect object. This is one of the criticisms of passive voice, but it is also one of its strengths. In the example you gave, you only care whether it's updated, only that someone has updated it, so omitting the performer of the updating is appropriate.

I have found that when someone complains about the passive voice, it is generally not difficult to find an example of them using it. For an extreme example, George Orwell said, without apparent irony, something along the lines of "The passive voice is used too much these days". And as for Microsoft, here's an example of them using the passive voice:

If the program finds spelling mistakes, a dialog box appears with the first misspelled word found by the spelling checker.

https://support.office.com/en-us/article/check-spelling-and-grammar-in-office-5cdeced7-d81d-47de-9096-efd0ee909227

"word found by the spelling checker" is passive voice. Active voice would be "word that the spelling checking found".

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Here is your original sentence:

It helps if I get a confirmation once the request to cancellation of the ticket has been updated.

The passive construction in this sentence is "the request ... has been updated." As other posters have noted, this construction avoids identifying the person or thing that actually performs the updating.

Transforming the passive construction into an active one is fairly simple: you just make the person or thing the subject of that part of the phrase:

It helps if I get a confirmation once you update the request to cancellation of the ticket.

Unfortunately, the no-longer-passive sentence is still not entirely coherent. Here is one possible rewording of the sentence that avoids most of the problems in the original:

Please send me a note of confirmation when you have updated my request to cancel the ticket.

But the practical meaning of having the agent "update my request to cancel the ticket" remains unclear. If you were the person updating your own earlier request, the phrase would make sense as is. But in what sense would the agent be "updating" your request to cancel the ticket? Perhaps what you mean to say is something like this:

Please send me a note of confirmation when you have finished processing my request to cancel the ticket.

Or perhaps it is more like this:

Please send me a note of confirmation when you have canceled the ticket.

Or this:

Please send me a note confirming that you have canceled the ticket.

As I hope this example has shown, rephrasing a passive construction as an active construction often has the beneficial effect of bringing to light ambiguities that you may have overlooked in the original sentence—at which point you can attempt to clear them up. And the more work you do as a writer to make your meaning clear, the less work you leave for your readers to do in trying to make sense of what you've written.

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In a classic sentence in the active voice, such as:

I canceled the ticket.

The agent, the person or thing doing the action of the verb appears as the grammatical subject, before the verb. The patient, the thing being acted on, appears as the grammatical object, after the verb.

To convert this to the passive voice, the patient becomes the subject, and moves before the verb, and a form of to be is used as an auxiliary verb, as in:

The ticket was cancelled.

This has the effect of hiding the agent. The agent can be shown in the passive voice, with a "by" construction:

The ticket was cancelled by me.

This third sentence conveys the exact same information as the first sentence did, but it is a bit wordier. It also stresses the patient, rather than the agent.

Because the passive voice requires the extra auxiliary, and can be used to hide or obscure the agent, it is sometimes used in poor or dishonest writing. That has given it a bad reputation. This is not really deserved, passive constructions are not ungrammatical, and sometimes they are the best way to say something. The passive should be used when the intent is to emphasize the patient, the thing or person acted on, and not the agent, the thing or person doing the action. Formal scientific writing uses the passive extensively, because the tradition is that suh writing should stress what is being done, and not who is doing it.

The passive makes it easy to say "mistakes were made", rather than "we made mistakes". Much stereotypical bureaucratic writing uses the passive voice. "Significant collateral damage was inflicted." instead of "Our army killed lots of people we didn't mean to." But that kind of evasive euphemism can be done in the active voice also, and that is just as bad. Just because the passive voice can be abuse is no reason not to use it properly.

I would say that the default for any given expression should probably be the active voice. The passive voice should be used when there is a good reason to do so. The previous sentence is an example, I wanted to emphasize the voice, and not the person. writing it. When you write a passive construction, consider, is there a good reason? If there is, great! Use it.

Oh, the original sentence:

It helps if I get a confirmation once the request to cancellation of the ticket has been updated

includes an error. "cancellation" cannot be used in this construction. One could write:

It helps if I get a confirmation once the request to cancel the ticket has been updated

Depending on the intended meaning "made" or "confirmed" might be better than "updated". One could also write:

It helps if I get a confirmation once the cancellation of the ticket has been completed.

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