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I a question about the following passive construction:

Entry was gained into the house.

I find the part "entry was gained" weird, because, according to dictionaries, the normal usage should be along the lines of:

They gained entry into the house.

But a google search showed that the passive construction is most common in police blotters. So, could it be that "entry was gained" is non-standard English that is only used in police reporting? If "entry was gained" is somehow standard English, then does that mean I could write the following passive construction for "give chase":

Chase was given to the suspect.

?

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    These are a form of words which I would expect to encounter only in obsessively formal contexts such as police reports.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 17:19

2 Answers 2

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There are (at least) four reasons to use a passive construction.

One, because you don't know who or what performed the action. "Entry into the house was gained through the basement." Perhaps we don't know who broke into the house, we're still investigating. Of course you could use a vague subject, like "someone" or, in this case, "the burglar". But a passive is a valid alternative.

Two, you want to emphasize the action rather than the actor. "Great scientific discoveries were made during this period." The immediate point is not who made these discoveries, but simply that they were made.

Three, literary reasons, like getting a rhyme, or varying up sentence structure.

Four, to deliberately obscure or gloss over who performed the action. There's the classic politician's non-apology for outrageous and scandalous behavior: "Mistakes were made." Not, "I broke every promise I have ever made and betrayed my friends and family", but "Mistakes were made" -- I'm not even quite sure who made them.

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    Action vs. actor is why scientific reports are almost invariably written in the passive voice.
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 22:07
  • "Mistakes were made" was the first thing I thought of when reading the question.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 17:13
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One reason to use the passive voice is to be purposefully vague about who performed a particular action. This construction is probably more common in police blotters because the actors and their number in a crime under investigation are usually unknown.

Chase was given to the suspect.

As alephzero pointed out in the comments, the set phrase is "give chase" and "chase was given" isn't modern idiomatic English. There are some examples from the 1800s, but most modern instances seem to be related to the male name Chase, and not the sense of the example sentence. 'The suspect was pursued.' would be the more likely passive construction.

Similar passive voice constructions might be used by someone reporting an incident who wanted to be very formal and convey a sense of objectivity. Naming actors, like "I chased the boy" instead of "the suspect was pursued" makes things more personal and less "legal sounding" to some folks.

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  • I agree with the first part about being purposefully vague with "entry was gained", but I think "chase was given" would never really be used (but then again, I don't think "give chase" is especially common nowadays anyway)
    – Sarah
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 17:27
  • @Sarah It sounds odd to me also, but I don't read police reports and I could see it being used there, especially when reporting an incident. A civilian might use it when giving a statement as well to convey a sense of formality and objectivity.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 17:29
  • "Give chase" is a set phrase. Following the pattern of the examples in meaning #3 in oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/give would produce the active form "Give a chase" or "give the chase". "An apple was given to the teacher" and "Respect was given to the teacher" are both good passive sentences, but it seems to me that a countable singular noun must have an article in this pattern. But "a chase was given..." isn't idiomatic English.
    – alephzero
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 3:13
  • @alephzero That's a good point. Something was wrong with chase was given and I couldn't put my finger on it.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 3:56

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