Author Topic: Passive Voice: NOW YOU KNOW  (Read 1412 times)

sortitus

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Passive Voice: NOW YOU KNOW
« on: August 27, 2009, 09:35:20 PM »
I've always had a problem with passive voice. I can write decently well, but because I was raised in a very science and technical writing centered family, what I write tends to come out in passive voice. Partially because nobody ever properly told me what the **** it was. So, in English classes I would write completely off the wall, nuts stuff. This is partially my personality shining through, but it was also me not knowing how to write in a way that satisfied my English teachers. No more!

Today my teacher said, "Passive voice is anything that's written with a form of 'to be' as the verb." My head exploded. I've attended advanced English classes my whole life, but nobody ever bothered to break down what passive voice is. Here I was thinking that it was some complex set of rules that made something passive voice, when use of "etre" (French is better) form is all it is. On one hand, I'm just happy to know what the poop everybody has been talking about all this time. On the other, I want to go back to all of my old schools and punch my old English teachers in the face.

I've listened to all of Writing Excuses, including the one that they talk about passive voice in (I don't think it was a dedicated episode), and they didn't bother defining it. I suppose I could be alone here, but I have the feeling that on the internet somewhere out there, somebody will stumble over this post and finally realize what passive voice is. As I have done. Except that I had to pay like $500 to find out and they will get it free. Just knowing this totally makes the cost of this semester worth it.
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Peter Ahlstrom

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Re: Passive Voice: NOW YOU KNOW
« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2009, 10:03:29 PM »
That problem is, your teacher oversimplified.

"The lunch is/was/will be bought by John." is passive voice.

"John is/was/will be buying the lunch." is not passive voice. It's progressive tense.

"John is/was/will be lunch for the tiger." is not passive voice. It's stative.

All three of them are written with a form of "to be" as the verb. What makes something passive is that the subject has something done to it instead of doing something. The lunch has buying done to it by someone else.
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Re: Passive Voice: NOW YOU KNOW
« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2009, 10:32:56 PM »
To simplify what Mr. Ookla just made a wee bit convoluted, if you are checking for passive voice in something you've written, search for "to be" verbs, and then determine if the subject is being acted upon or doing the acting.
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sortitus

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Re: Passive Voice: NOW YOU KNOW
« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2009, 10:49:47 PM »
Ah. Reducing my use of the etre form may improve my writing though, as I overuse it. A whole lot. It's especially bad when I modify verbs with the etre form when I should just change tense or something. So maybe I just need to cut down on it personally and nobody else has that problem. I think that avoiding etre as much as possible is a good rule of thumb for me personally at very least. I can see it becoming a very good little trick in my toolbox.

See how this post is riddled with the use of etre form? Needs fixed. Or is that a general English language thing?
Hero of Ages: Impressive Regality Over Niceness, Y'all
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Peter Ahlstrom

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Re: Passive Voice: NOW YOU KNOW
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2009, 05:42:23 PM »
It's not riddled with it. You have only "It's especially bad" "is a good rule of thumb" "is riddled with" "Needs [to be] fixed" "is that a". The first three are stative, the fourth one is infinitive, and the last one is interrogative. None of those are passive and they're all used correctly. It's also possible to use passive voice correctly when there are rhetorical reasons for it.
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sortitus

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Re: Passive Voice: NOW YOU KNOW
« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2009, 07:36:31 PM »
Ah, well in that case, I shan't change my writing at all! Haha!

At least you guys got me the actual definition, so the class and post were not a waste of time. I will watch myself and maybe not use "to be" as much, but only if I feel like it. I thumb my nose at you, teach! No, I probably just misunderstood what he said.

Also, I now realize that the definition that you gave is pretty much the same definition as was given in Writing Excuses. I have a question to clarify one last point.

Am I using passive voice if I don't use "to be"?
Hero of Ages: Impressive Regality Over Niceness, Y'all
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Re: Passive Voice: NOW YOU KNOW
« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2009, 09:18:44 PM »
K, it's been five years since I took an English class, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say "No."
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Reaves

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Re: Passive Voice: NOW YOU KNOW
« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2009, 11:36:14 PM »
Wait -- isn't voice different from tense? So can't something be passive progressive?

Anyway, your initial post instantly reminded me of one of David Farland's daily kicks, a little email he sends out chock-full of great writing advice. I found it, and I'll go ahead and quote the pertinent sections here. If you want to read the entire Kick go ahead and send me a PM.
Quote
5)     In order to avoid the use of the to be verbs, consider putting the object being described at the front of the sentence, followed by a strong verb, followed by the thing that is acted upon.   For example, rather than saying "The day was so cold that bits of ice hung in the air, driving into Theron's face as he plunged into the storm," you would say, "Needles of ice drove into Theron's face as he plunged through the storm." 
Quote
 
9.  Especially when you open a story, you are trying to put things in motion.  One way to do that is to describe things—even inanimate things—in motion by creating metaphors.  Many a writer might have  trees "march down out of the hills." Buildings can "huddle" or "lunge" or "straddle." By the same token, if you're trying to create a sense of rest in the story, particularly near the ending, make sure that you describe your settings and even creatures and people in motion as being still.   For example, a hawk can “hang in the sky.”
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sortitus

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Re: Passive Voice: NOW YOU KNOW
« Reply #8 on: August 28, 2009, 11:45:11 PM »
Purdue University keeps up a pretty nifty guide, apparently. It was in my bookmarks. Anyway, I searched it for "passive" and got the proper article.

Active and Passive Voice

Verb Tenses (Linked to in the other article, but I'll put it here as a quicker reference.)

Excellent information, Reaves. PMing....
Hero of Ages: Impressive Regality Over Niceness, Y'all
좋아! This time with more ecstatic! 좋네!!! I'll say it again in french! Trois fois voiture!!! Ça va. C'est vrai. C'est bien.
High Knight of the Grand Pie of the Holy Order of Pie, The Left Hand of Pie

Peter Ahlstrom

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Re: Passive Voice: NOW YOU KNOW
« Reply #9 on: August 28, 2009, 11:58:44 PM »
The passive voice example I gave was three different tenses. You can have passive progressive, but it's pretty awkward. Here is some:

"Tomorrow at this time, I will be being picked up by the bus."
"Yesterday the lawn was being mowed by my brother."
"Right now some flies are being taught a major lesson in fear by my mighty swatter of yellow death."

Actually that last one is pretty good. Like I said, there can be good rhetorical reasons for using passive voice, but you have to know what you're doing.

The Purdue page linked above is quite good, but one thing it doesn't mention is using passive for reasons of rhetorical flow. When you write a paragraph, one technique is to go from old information to new information so the new information doesn't come out of nowhere. Sometimes the object of a sentence will be brought up in a previous sentence but the subject of the new sentence has not been brought up before. In such a case you might want to use the passive.

(See what I did there? Though the reason for that is discussed on Purdue's page rather than in that paragraph.)

(See what I did there? These are just sentences that come naturally as I write. Pro writers use the passive voice all the time; they just don't use it poorly.)
« Last Edit: August 29, 2009, 12:08:29 AM by Ookla The Mok »
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