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  1. #1
    Jane Forsman

    Passive Voice (No, don't run away!)

    Okay, I'll be the first the admit that I don't no all of the ins and outs of passive voice. I know the basics (He was walking, she was sitting), but I would like to know more. I'm looking in Granny's direction, in Karen's, too, and perhaps even at Blipperton. Anyone, really, who could pass on some of their knowledge about passive voice, would be wonderful.

    What I'm looking for (any of these will do, or all):

    1) Examples of bad passive voice
    2) Examples of good passive voice
    3) Examples of how to make passive voice active
    4) Examples of how to make active voice passive
    5) Explanations of the purpose of both active and passive voice

    Anything else that people think of what be great, too. As I'm looking over my current project, I would like to be aware of the opinions of others concerning passive voice/active voice, etc. (Who knows, perhaps I'm a complete passive voice criminal)

    * I have searched through the archives, but haven't found anything that fully addresses my questions. If anyone knows of a good link, book, magazine, etc, that would be helpful, I'd appreciate it.

  2. #2
    Jane Forsman

    Re: Passive Voice (No, don't run away!)

    Jeez, a typo in the first line. That should be "know," not "know."

  3. #3
    Jane Forsman

    Re: Passive Voice (No, don't run away!)

    Oh, you know what I mean! (I was tempted to write: Oh, you no what I mean!)

  4. #4

    Re: Passive Voice (No, don't run away!)

    Don't sweat it, Jane. Everybody makes misteaks.


  5. #5
    Jane Forsman

    Re: Passive Voice (No, don't run away!)

    "Anything else that people think of what be great, too."

    Oh my gosh, what nxet? ;-)

  6. #6

    Re: Passive Voice (No, don't run away!)


    "She was walking, he was sitting" -- neither of these are passive voice. They are progressive tenses. Progressives are usually wordy but they aren't passive voice. Don't feel bad, they are mislabelled a lot.

    Passive voice is all about whether the subject of the sentence is acting or being acted upon. Now, you're going to get a lot of opinions about passive voice, so I might as well give you mine...let's look at a common passive voice sentence:

    Junie's car was totalled. <-- this is passive voice because Junie's car didn't do anything...it was done to.

    Now...how do you fix it (assuming it needs fixing)?

    Junie totalled her car. <-- This is active voice. Now if assigning blame for the car totalling to Junie suits the story, this is a very nice fix and probably the preferred sentence. It has a strong specific subject (Junie) and a strong single-word verb (totalled.) It's direct and clean (though you'll notice that it is no less wordy than the original sentence.)

    Someone totalled Junie's car. <-- This basically sucks. You're using a weak indefinite pronoun for the subject but it's what you may be reduced to if you can't assign blame to a concrete person. Beginning your sentence from a position of weakness can't really be considered an improvement -- yes, the verb is stronger but the subject is distinctly weaker and you're hitting your reader with the weakest bit first. That is nearly always a bad move. So, at best, this is even money with "Junie's car was totalled."

    The accident totalled Junie's car. <-- This could be considered a fix. You have a specific noun for the subject. You have a strong active verb. But you are monkeying just a fuzz with the definition of "accident" -- some editors won't like it. If passive voice really makes you itch and if you cannot assign blame to a specific person (either for plot reasons or another logic issue), this might be your best "fix." You'll notice that it is actually slightly wordier than the passive voice sentence.

    You see, that's how the "rule" against passive voice began. Publishing today favors the spare, the clean, the trimmed prose. Wordiness is the enemy. Most of the time, utilizing a passive voice construction is wordy and thus slows the pace, and stands a chance of boring the reader. We've also become a reading society that values "direct" communication even when it's only a facade. The "Someone totalled Junie's car." isn't direct communication but it "sounds" like it is and mostly we feel that's enough.

    If I couldn't assign blame (for logic or plot reasons) and if I didn't want the sentence to stand out or sound odd to the reader's ear, I would write "Junie's car was totalled." and never give it another thought. I wouldn't be doing it because I am lazy or a weak writer or even less "direct" in my communication. I would do it because it fit the job at the time -- it conveyed the information *I* wanted to convey quickly, cleanly, and seamlessly.

    My 2 cents...and worth about that much.


  7. #7
    Keith Cronin


    "He was sitting" is not passive.

    "He was seated by the head waiter" is passive.

    Don't confuse past progressive tense (was eating, was sitting, etc.) with passive verbs (was eaten, was seated, etc.).

    Here's a good link to check out:



  8. #8

    Re: details...

    Gran, you are a TREASURE!!!!!!!!!! And WN is damn lucky to have you.

  9. #9
    Roy Abrahams

    Re: details...

    Bingo, Iris!

  10. #10
    Gary Kessler

    Re: details...

    Oh, wow, yes on the praise for Gran. Much more than I can keep straight even with the aid of a lapfull of grammar books.

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