Author Topic: Passive voice  (Read 898 times)

Juan Dolor

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Passive voice
« on: April 02, 2011, 04:04:29 PM »
Hey, I have had several people tell me that I am using passive voice in my stories when I don't think I am.  Maybe that term just means different things to us.  I always thought passive voice was like this:

PASSIVE - The lamp was broken while you were gone.

The second sentence is passive because there is no subject.  No one is doing the thing that was done.  It just happened.  You fix it by saying who did it.

ACTIVE - I broke the lamp while you were gone.

But some people, on these boards and in other places, seem to think that passive voice is more than that.  To them, passive voice is using anything but a simple verb tense.  For example:

PAST SIMPLE: He thought about giving up.
PAST IMPERFECT: He was thinking about giving up.
PAST PERFECT:  He had thought about giving up.
PAST PLUPERFECT: He had been thinking about giving up.

In all of these four, the subject is included, so I would consider all of them active voice.  Some people might say that the latter three are less direct than the first one, but I don't think that's true.  I think using those tenses conveys different information; they imply different things about the action.  And I would not call any of them passive voice.   

What do you think?  What do you mean when you talk about passive voice?

Silk

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Re: Passive voice
« Reply #1 on: April 02, 2011, 07:09:36 PM »
No, you're correct. Actually, I'm going to borrow your explanation--as an English teacher and tutor, I see students writing in passive voice all the time.

dhalagirl

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Re: Passive voice
« Reply #2 on: April 03, 2011, 08:54:56 AM »
I'm a little ashamed to say that I'm impressed that you guys know this.  Anything remotely resembling grammar was removed from curriculum in Oregon a long time ago.  In fact, it wasn't until I started studying Japanese that I finally learned the difference between a verb and an adjective.  To this day I have to translate a word into Japanese and then back into English in order to tell you which is which.


Silk

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Re: Passive voice
« Reply #3 on: April 03, 2011, 06:26:22 PM »
Heh. Well, I've always been good with using grammar, but it wasn't until I started learning Spanish and Latin that I really started learning what all the different pieces are called. (Sound familiar? :) ) I've picked up a lot more of that now due to my work as a tutor and teacher--it's really become essential for me to know because I often work with students who are learning English as a second language.

fireflyz

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Re: Passive voice
« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2011, 12:03:10 PM »
@Juan. 

Technically, that's correct.  I think that it depends on what is occurring around the sentence.

PAST IMPERFECT: He was thinking about giving up.
PAST PERFECT:  He had thought about giving up.
PAST PLUPERFECT: He had been thinking about giving up.

For example, if the action is immediate, the character is in the middle of putting a puzzle together and having difficulty and the writer chooses past imperfect...to me that is passive.  It's not immediate and it doesn't read well.  The same for the other two forms. 

Now, if for example the writing surrounding the sentence is exposition.  The character kept coming back to this puzzle, but he didn't know why even bothered anymore.  The truth was, it was impossible.  At least, impossible for him.  No, he was thinking about giving up.  That's not passive. 

In most cases I believe it's all about context.  In general, the fewer words you can use to convey the same message the better.  Also, depending on the type of story and the action going on, shorter, concise sentences can really bring out the writing.  The last thing we writers want to do is put any stumbling block out for the readers.  Especially for aspiring authors, as sometimes all it takes is one sentence to make the agent/editor put the book down.

Just my two cents.
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Peter Ahlstrom

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Re: Passive voice
« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2011, 01:48:25 AM »
For example, if the action is immediate, the character is in the middle of putting a puzzle together and having difficulty and the writer chooses past imperfect...to me that is passive.  It's not immediate and it doesn't read well.  The same for the other two forms.
It may be poor writing (depends on context), but it's not passive voice. By definition.
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Wolle

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Re: Passive voice
« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2011, 04:36:30 PM »
I'm still trying to get my head around this.

What about sentences that have "it" as a subject, when "it" isn't really referring to anything concrete? In other words, is this correct:

PASSIVE - "It was raining"

ACTIVE - "The rain fell."


Juan Dolor

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Re: Passive voice
« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2011, 10:47:05 PM »
Man, that's a tough one.  I think both of those are fine, but I'm no grammarian.

Peter Ahlstrom

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Re: Passive voice
« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2011, 04:05:35 AM »
It was raining is still active. It's past progressive.

But "the rain fell" might be better to use depending on what mood you want in a particular scene. Except it's boring. If you want descriptive writing you'd use a different verb. If you just want something transparent, "it was raining" would generally work fine.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2011, 04:15:58 AM by Peter Ahlstrom »
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fardawg

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Re: Passive voice
« Reply #9 on: June 27, 2011, 05:10:39 PM »
Well, passive aggressive is defined as "a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation..." Oh...Passive Voice! My bad.

Seriously, grammar do is had be hards. 
« Last Edit: June 27, 2011, 05:32:17 PM by fardawg »