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Hi I strive to avoid passive voice to make my writing more vivid, there is a sentence where I have to write

He is based in Australia

Other than saying

He bases in Australia

Is there any other better suggestion ? Thanks

  • You could say "based in Australia is he" or "based in Australia, he is", but then you'd sound like Yoda. You could say "In Australia, he is based", but that actually does sound passive (although not technically so). – DCShannon May 25 '15 at 1:45
  • Actually it is no passive as it does not describe an action. "is based" is to be + a past participle with the character of an adjective and describes a state. Have you ever read an author who does not use passive? – rogermue May 25 '15 at 12:51
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First and foremost, Strunk&White's "rule" that passive constructions should be avoided is not a rule. It is a general style advice, and actually its validity is very debatable to say the least.

Then about your sentence. There is nothing wrong with he is based. It is natural, easy to understand and idiomatic. Changing the sentence in an attempt to avoid what you perceive as a passive construction is likely to create an unfamiliar, more difficult to read sentence that is unlikely to make your writing more vivid. Quirky yes, but that is not the same thing.

Wait, did I say perceive as passive? Yes indeed. He is based can arguably be seen as an active construction! If I describe someone as strong, the sentence he is strong is not a passive construction at all. Strong modifies he, and is simply is a copula.

Of course, but strong is an adjective... but past participles of verbs can also be used attributively, in similar ways we use adjectives.

In the sentence he is based in Australia, I see a description of a situation, not a description of an action that was performed. In a passive sentence, I expect an implicit or explicit actor that performed the action:

The dog was beaten (by someone!).

In the case of

He is based in Australia.

There is not any part of my mind that starts wondering who bases him in Australia. The sentence just tells me his location, describing a situation, rather then describing an action. So based in Australia is an attributive phrase that modifies he, with is again as a simple copula.

No passive construction, so no need to change anything, even if you want to follow Strunk & White (which is probably something that should only be done with caution and moderation anyway!)


Just for illustration, this article by Geoffrey K. Pullum highlights some of the better-known yet not-so-usable "rules" of Strunk & White. This article has been linked several times on ELU and here on ELL and I would advise anybody, native speaker or learner to read this article when they start thinking about their writing style.

"Use the active voice" is a typical section head. And the section in question opens with an attempt to discredit passive clauses that is either grammatically misguided or disingenuous.

Sadly, writing tutors tend to ignore this moderation, and simply red-circle everything that looks like a passive, just as Microsoft Word's grammar checker underlines every passive in wavy green to signal that you should try to get rid of it. That overinterpretation is part of the damage that Strunk and White have unintentionally done.

What concerns me is that the bias against the passive is being retailed by a pair of authors so grammatically clueless that they don't know what is a passive construction and what isn't. Of the four pairs of examples offered to show readers what to avoid and how to correct it, a staggering three out of the four are mistaken diagnoses.

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    Actually, Strunk & White say that the passive voice is "frequently convenient and sometimes necessary". They include examples where you'd word the same sentence passively or actively depending on context, and suggest good vs. bad ways to word sentences in the passive voice. A "rule" against passive voice is surely a dumbed-down version of what started as genuine insight—like most English "rules", I think. – Ben Kovitz May 24 '15 at 22:27
  • @BenKovitz: what didn't help in understanding Strunk & White was that examples they gave of "passive voice" were often not even passive. – oerkelens May 25 '15 at 11:17
  • (+1) for pointing out that in a true passive voice it must be possible to understand who/what performs the action (e.g. sth is done by someone). – Lorenzo Donati -- Codidact.com May 25 '15 at 12:26
  • @oerkelens I just took a look at the Pullum article you linked to, and it's downright condescending and disingenuous! He's misrepresenting Strunk & White, especially in the "three out of four" bit. S&W give those examples to illustrate how to make writing more lively by replacing "some such perfunctory expression as there is." Apparently I'm not the only one to find Pullum condescending and mean-spirited: here's someone complaining about the same thing in a talk by Pullum. – Ben Kovitz May 27 '15 at 15:09
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    From your link: "Pullum displayed an actual undergrad paper which had been wrongly labeled by a confused TA with passive voice errors. Right, that wasn't passive voice. But just because somebody mis-identifies it doesn't mean passive voice is not a problem." Really? So it's just A-OK to label a student's work as wrong "because he uses passive voice", even if he did not use the passive voice, just because, supposedly, the passive voice is a problem?? Even if passive voice were a problem, the argument is ridiculous enough not to take the blog too seriously. – oerkelens May 27 '15 at 15:39
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I think you're taking things a bit too far by supposing that switching He is based in Australia to "active voice" will somehow make your writing "more vivid".

In principle you could make he the subject of the verb. But it would need a reflexive construction...

He bases himself in Australia

...and it's probably not appropriate anyway. The original is ambiguous about whether he or his employers are the ones who decide where to base him, but usually it would be the latter...

His employers base him in Australia
...or more likely...
His employers have based him in Australia

Regardless of whether you substitute some other subject (the company, his boss, or whatever), you've unavoidably introduced a pointlessly-distracting "agent" you probably didn't want. I assume the reason for making the statement in the first place is to draw attention to the fact that Australia is where he's based (not somewhere else).

By explicitly referencing whoever caused him to be based there, you're just undermining the original intent of the statement (Where is he?) and diverting attention to Who put him there, and why?


TL;DR: There's a case for saying excessive use of passive voice can be undesirable, but this doesn't imply you should always avoid it. In this case it's probably best to leave well alone.

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  • +1 He is based in Australia but often travels abroad, for example, as an example of retaining the passive of the original. – user6951 May 24 '15 at 16:49
  • @pazzo: Exactly. He bases himself in Australia, but I think he would do better relocating to California. Both our examples could be switched from passive to active and vice-versa, but they're better as they are. Yours focuses attention on just the location (though it may not be constant), but mine introduces the concept of who chose it (he/they may have made a mistake). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 24 '15 at 17:01
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    +1 for pointing out that trying to reword it "actively" would actually distract from and confuse what the original sentence says so clearly. – Ben Kovitz May 24 '15 at 23:07
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I agree that the verb is is intransitive and stative in this usage. There is no dynamic action here; instead, the verb is describes a state of being. Therefore the original sentence,

He is based in Australia.

is in neither active nor passive voice.

But because forms of to be are commonly used in passive constructions, some people have mistakenly conflated the two. If you are dealing with an editor or teacher who feels this way or you truly need a different phrasing, maybe

He works from Australia.

or

His base of operations is in Australia.

would meet your needs.
Either way, the sentence *He bases in Australia. is ungrammatical and should be avoided.

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Being based somewhere is an inherently passive activity.

If you want your text to be more lively, use a different wording altogether:

He works out of his office in Australia.

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    I don't think that being "based" is passive, but your suggestion for livelier wording is excellent! – Ben Kovitz May 24 '15 at 22:14
  • Note that British English would prefer "from" or "in" to "out of". – David Richerby May 25 '15 at 8:41
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He resides in Australia.

(Otherwise, the sentence was passive. Who basis him in Australia? The military?)

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