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  1. #1
    P Allison
    Guest

    Are these passive verbs?

    Hi all,
    I am confused about a recent critique I received by a publishing insider (as part of a contest I entered recently). This person stated that I used passive verbs. I understand passive voice occurs when the subject is acted upon, instead of having the subject perform the action. I also understand about linking verbs and complements. I just don't see it and would appreciate any help.

    Below is the paragraph in question, and the alleged passive verbs are in caps:

    ...The mornings ARE mine, and so IS this room. It IS small and the ceilings sloped, an attic transformed into a sanctuary. The house IS old, its walls full of conversations that creak stories of the past. Next to the filing cabinet IS my paint splattered and battle worn easel...

    Any comments would be greatly appreciated. I do not want to make amateurish mistakes, but this critique left me scratching my head.

  2. #2
    mar quesa
    Guest

    Re: Are these passive verbs?

    Just my opinion...
    The way I see it is that you're not efficient or inventive with words/imagery so those verbs stand out as passive. I mean, you can use a thesaurus and replace the forms of the verb [i]to be</> here and you won't be improving this that much. For instance, instead of The mornings are mine , you can say, the mornings belong to me, and that won't make much of a difference. The problem is that your narrative is kinda bland.

    Work on the voice. This is very important because it can help disguise so many other writing flaws.

    The following is the opening of Alice Selbold's, Lovely Bones

    My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

    Do you see what I mean? The verb to be is used here but it doesn't stand out. My point is that you don't need fancy words or verbs, you need compelling writing.

    Another thing that stood out for me is the fact that you start talking about "your mornings" and then you switch to the attic as if the attic is the main character. Is that what you're aiming at?

  3. #3
    mar quesa
    Guest

    Re: Are these passive verbs?

    Sorry about the italics- I'm exhausted.

  4. #4
    John Oberon
    Guest

    Re: Are these passive verbs?

    Follow these four principles as much as possible, and your writing will improve and become more lean. Several other considerations enter the mix as well, but these four, and especially the first two, enliven writing.

    1. Write in simple present tense (he sits, they write) or simple past tense (he sat, they wrote). "ing" verbs often blunt meaning and helping verbs usually just clutter writing.

    2. Write in active voice, not passive voice, unless you seek to emphasize either the passivity of the subject or the unintentionality of an act. Ex: The car hit the man (active), The man was hit by the car (passive).

    3. Eliminate any variant of the verb “to be” (be, been, being, am, are, is, was, were). #1 and #2 usually achieve most of this goal.

    4. Eliminate any variant of the following empty verbs. Replace them with stronger more descriptive verbs. Writers employ some of these verbs to good effect as nouns or adjectives, or as verbs with a meaning different than ordinary. Ex: The boy suffers deep want; He is a man on the take (or make or go, but careful with idioms); His use of her shows glaringly on her face.
    to have - have, having, has, had
    to do - do, doing, done, did
    to take - take, taking, taken, took
    to make - make, making, made
    to go - go, goes, going, gone, went
    to see - see, seeing, seen, saw
    to look - look, looking, looked
    to use - use, used, using
    to get - get, got, getting, gotten
    to keep - keep, keeping, kept
    to seem – seem, seeming, seemed
    to want - want, wanted, wanting

    The verb "to be" weakens your writing. As much as possible replace "to be" with stronger more descriptive verbs. Don't forget metaphors and personification. Something like this:

    ...I love mornings in my room, my small attic sanctuary with sloped ceilings. The walls of this old house eavesdropped on so many past conversations and now gossips about them in groans and creaks. Next to the filing cabinet, my paint splattered and battle worn easel stands at attention...

  5. #5
    John Oberon
    Guest

    Re: Are these passive verbs?

    "gossip", not "gossips".

  6. #6
    P Allison
    Guest

    Re: Are these passive verbs?

    I posted a response earlier (or thought I did, without my first cup of coffee). In case it shows up later, pardon the double posting.

    To recap:
    First I want to thank both of you, John and Mar, for taking the time to give feedback. Although Mar I admit the tie in of imagery making something passive confused me because that's not my understanding of what makes a sentence passive.

    In my original sentences, I used the verb "to be" as a linking verb to descriptive complements (i.e., small, old). At least that's what I thought I was doing. Old and small aren't actions being done to a subject, they're descriptions...so how could those sentences be passive?

    However, I do see the points that the verb "to be" made the writing clunkier/heavier. When the sentences were written and streamlined, it was so much better. From a style level, certain verbs will weigh down the work.

    To me, those are two different dynamics. Clunky, cumbersome use of the verb "to be" vs. passive use of the verb "to be".

  7. #7
    P Allison
    Guest

    Re: Are these passive verbs?

    To clarify: the above question of "so how could those sentences be passive?" was not directed to anyone but rather an outward musing : )

  8. #8
    Joe Zeff
    Guest

    Re: Are these passive verbs?

    John, do you keep that list in a text file so that you can copy/paste it whenever there's a new sucker? Not that your advice is wrong, it's far too absolute. Allison, consider what John wrote as suggestions and guidelines and you'll be OK. Take them as rules that you must never break, and you'll stunt your writing.

    Personally, BTW, I don't believe that there is such a thing as a "passive verb," but then, I never studied writing in school, I just write. Several people have told you that your writing is bland, and I agree; it's almost without character. Instead of constantly using the form, "A is B," try to vary the form, length and complexity of your writing. Even Hemingway didn't always use the short, declarative form that he's so famous for; every now and then, just for variety, he'd put in a long, complex sentence because it was the right way to say what he wanted.

  9. #9
    Breece Dillon
    Guest

    Re: Are these passive verbs?

    Personally, BTW, I don't believe that there is such a thing as a "passive verb," but then, I never studied writing in school, I just write. [...] Instead of constantly using the form, "A is B," try to vary the form, length and complexity of your writing. Even Hemingway didn't always use the short, declarative form that he's so famous for; every now and then, just for variety, he'd put in a long, complex sentence because it was the right way to say what he wanted.
    Joe, consider me a fan.

  10. #10
    John Oberon
    Guest

    Re: Are these passive verbs?

    Allison,

    Below is the last exchange between Joe and me concerning my principles. I leave it to you to determine which of us is the more knowledgeable and competent writer. Practice those principles as much as possible and your writing will improve.

    Joe:

    John, you're handing out Magic Bullets again. As I've mentioned before, "ing" verbs are properly called "gerunds," and it looks better if you use the right term. Your third "rule" would make it impossible for me to write, "The day was hot; hotter than any day I could remember for this time of year." Last, your fourth "rule" collapses to "avoid using the infinitive form of verbs," which is just as wrong as the rest. (One exception: your comment about passive voice was spot on, including your examples.)

    John:

    Well, Joe...first of all, a gerund is not an "ing" verb; it is an "ing" noun, as in "Swimming is fun." If I felt compelled to write a principle against gerunds, I would've.

    Second, if you'll read my little introduction to my principles, you'll see the phrase "as much as possible". If you wanted to keep that sentence you wrote, then of course, you must break the rule, but perhaps to the detriment of your writing. In keeping with my principle, I myself would substitute a more descriptive verb like "I sweltered that day, more than any day I could remember for this time of year."

    Finally, my fourth principle does not say to avoid using infinitives. It says to avoid using the listed verbs entirely and replace them with stronger more descriptive verbs. You simply misread it.

    Again, follow those principles AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, and your writing will improve. Nothing magic about these principles, but it might seem like it if you follow them.

    Joe:

    Funny thing is, John, every, single one of the verbs you listed as bad was an infinitive.

    John:

    An infinitive is the conventional way to name a verb as in "Try not to use the verb 'to have' in writing". At any rate, I don't have a problem with infinitives in general, just the infinitive and any other variant of those empty verbs listed. If you replace those empty verbs with stronger more descriptive verbs as much as possible, your writing will improve dramatically. But why argue, Joe? Fill your writing with as many of those empty verbs as you like. I promise not to be offended in the least.

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