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Ignore the mantra to avoid the passive voice! Instead ... ?

Ross at Play
Updated:

@samuel michaels

Thank you for recommending The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker on another thread. I cannot agree that it's not really a 'style guide'. I think it is a 'guide', and it's those others (that we all loathe so intensely for their dictatorial tones) that would be better referred to as 'manuals'.

This book is certainly suitable for the needs of authors of fiction. Unlike those damn manuals, it is not focused on the needs of formal writers, but instead identifies whenever its suggestions do not apply equally to both formal and informal writers.

The book covers most of the "controversies" about correct grammar, but does not simply come down on one side or the other. Most of the myths some would dictate to others do contain at least a grain of truth. The author seeks to discuss their merits and/or excesses of the so-called rules and seeks to identify the situations where following them does improve writing.

I found one section particularly illuminating, on the consequences for writers of research into what types of constructions tend to cause confusion or other types of struggles for readers. The results of that research are sometimes not what one would intuitively think were so.

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I have come to the conclusion that it is probably counterproductive for writers to focus on avoiding the use of the passive voice, and that the atrocities so often associated with its excessive use are a symptom of a deeper problem.

I think the remedy for that deeper problem is to focus on choosing the correct subject for sentences - and if that produces sentences with the passive voice they will not cause any particular problems.

Research suggests it is easiest for readers to comprehend paragraphs when all sentences have the same subject: that is readers' default expectation. There will be times when an idea cannot be conveniently expressed in one sentence. It is then okay to have a sequence of sentences with the latter ones beginning with a pronoun (or something else) referring back to the previous sentence.

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I suggest to authors that focusing on that is a better way to produce writing that is easier to understand.
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EDIT TO ADD ...
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This thread has taken a turn I did not anticipate.
I use the word 'passive' to have only one meaning - to describe VERBS using the PASSIVE VOICE instead of the ACTIVE VOICE. There are times when using the passive voice is the correct thing to do. I was hoping this thread would focus on ways to find those times while avoiding those when it is not.
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It appears others use the word to describe language I would label as verbose or indistinct. I would regard those as almost always sins that good writers should seek to avoid.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

Research suggests it is easiest for readers to comprehend paragraphs when all sentences have the same subject:


As a cheerleader for making stories easy to read, I've been experimenting with that. One downside is that you can end up with short paragraphs.

AJ

richardshagrin

@awnlee jawking

One downside is that you can end up with short paragraphs.

And why is that bad? For stories on SOL where space is "free" as opposed to a printed book where the more paper you use the higher the cost. Although extra space between more paragraphs probably doesn't cost much.

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

One downside is that you can end up with short paragraphs.

I can see how that would be the result of taking this idea a bit too far.
Along with all the myths about grammar, I would not suggest this is treated as a "rule", but as an idea containing some grains of truth, perhaps quite a few.
I used the word 'focus' (three times) hoping to suggest that other considerations might still prompt revisions after the first cut produced by focusing on using the "correct" subject for sentences.

Ernest Bywater

@richardshagrin

And why is that bad?


You can easily end up with something like:

See Spot. See Spot run. See Spot run fast.

Ross at Play
Updated:

There is a couple of points I planned to include in my original post but forgot.

There are two simple methods authors can employ to create sentences with their chosen subject. One is to use the same verb but swapping between the active and passive voice.

For many of the most common verbs there exists a 'complimentary' verb which describes the same action, but with the subject and an object reversed, e.g. give and take, buy and sell. I certainly do not advocate using the passive voice without a clear purpose, so when a complimentary verb exists for an action I want to describe my strong tendency would be to select whichever of the pair allowed me to use the active voice with my chosen subject.

Ross at Play

@richardshagrin

And why is that bad?

I think it is once again a matter of degree.
Readers "expect" (as least as the default) that sentences in a paragraph will either be about the same subject, or be following on from the previous sentence.
Readers also expect paragraphs to complete some event or train of thought.
These two expectations by readers will often be in conflict.
I did not suggest my 'remedy' for one problem would not create other new problems for authors to solve. :-)

Crumbly Writer

I think we're discussing two different things. Most authors know to restrict paragraphs to a single subject, however, what you're suggesting is to limit each paragraph to a single Pronoun (i.e. a single individual, so there's never any confusion over who's being referenced).

However, that's incredibly limiting, especially if you're describing the actions of a group. Often, authors will describe how a single action affects multiple individuals. Your suggestion suggests that each 'reference shot' be separated into separate paragraph (rather than the traditional 'Sally recoiled in horror while Bob chuckled'). Basically, if these references remain short snapshots, it makes little sense to separate them--even if they do tend to cause pronoun confusion.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


however, what you're suggesting


I honestly have no idea what you're suggesting I am suggesting.

What I am suggesting is that after starting a paragraph with the sentence, 'Sally recoiled in horror while Bob chuckled', it will be easier for readers if the next sentence has Sally as its subject instead of Bob.

It is obviously not always practical to do so, but there are certainly circumstances I would prefer the next sentence to have Sally as its subject and be in the passive voice, in preference to the same action with Bob as the subject in an active voice.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I honestly have no idea what you're suggesting I am suggesting.

I was suggesting one of the more frequent uses (at least in my case) where one would have multiple subjects in a single paragraph, and exploring what would happen if we followed your 'single subject (person, not topic)' per paragraph.

As a general guideline, your suggestion makes sense, but obviously, it's easier to implement in simple stories, and increasingly difficult in more complex, multiple character stories. That said, I'd still try to eliminate the use of passive phrases. While it is allowable, often those passive phrases remain in stories merely because the author never considering eliminating the confusing sentence fragments. Cutting passive phrases is one of my common objectives during my revision of my stories (though it's harder to do when you don't revise an existing chapter).

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

often those passive phrases remain in stories merely because the author never considering eliminating the confusing sentence fragments.

You seem to be assuming passive phrases are confusing. I cannot see how. What is confusing about 'Jill was carried home by Jack' (passive voice) instead of 'Jack carried Jill home' (active voice)? The passive voice does often require two extra words. It is not desirable, but I do not see how the passive voice, per se, causes confusion for readers.
We have all seen many examples of horrible writing littered with the passive voice, but I think the passives are usually a consequence of confused writers not considering what readers need to know. I cannot see how reader confusion can result from an author deciding upon the best subject for a sentence just because the best verb would then require the passive voice.

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

The passive voice does often require two extra words. It is not desirable, but I do not see how the passive voice, per se, causes confusion for readers.


Except the vast majority of times the passive voice is used (at least in the US) those two extra words are left off. It wouldn't be "Jill was carried home by Jack.", it would just by "Jill was carried home."

The most common use of the passive voice in the US is in politics and business to acknowledge that bad shit happened without admitting guilt or blaming anyone else. The classic example is "Mistakes were made."

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Dominions Son


Mistakes were made


I have been anticipating someone would mention that example.

It is horrible writing, but I do not think that is caused by the use of the passive voice. I think the passive voice there is being caused by a writer seeking to being unclear about who did the action.

What I am suggesting is an author of fiction who is seeking to write clearly could not write that kind of sentence provided their focus is on selecting the best subject for their sentences.

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

I think the passive voice there is being caused by a writer seeking to being unclear about who did the action.


Correct, but that's the reputation of the passive voice in the US, that is is most often used to be deliberately unclear about who did what, and why it is so out of favor here.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

Understood.
I was assuming that here I would be discussing whether it actually causes problems for writers who are not complete morons or evil bastards - or at least not after they come home from work. :-)

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

'Jill was carried home by Jack' (passive voice) instead of 'Jack carried Jill home' (active voice)?


In fiction, you typically want your characters doing things (Jack carried Jill home).

But if the emphasis is on the character Jill, the passive is probably better (Jill was carried home by Jack).

Think about a scene about Jill where she's partying, drinking, and passes out. Now if Jack carried her home and undressed her and had sex with her, it could very well be about Jack and the active version would be better. But if it's all about Jill and all Jack did was carry her home, then what's important is someone carried her home (passive version).

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

if the emphasis is on the character Jill, the passive is probably better

There I was thinking of an innocent children's rhyme ... and someone turns it into a sleazy sex story. :-)
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My quote from you is the point I am trying to make, sometimes the passive is better.
I am not suggesting authors should choose to use the passive, I'm suggesting if they focus on choosing the right subject and the result is passive then it will be one of those times when the passive is better.
The exception I can see is when a 'complimentary' verb exists. If I was confident I had the right subject I would probably use an active 'buy' rather than a passive 'was sold', but an active 'sold' rather than a passive 'was bought'.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

You seem to be assuming passive phrases are confusing. I cannot see how.

By 'confusing', I meant 'using more words than is necessary. In your example sentence, the passive sentence is a full third larger than the active sentence. While that's not wrong, it's generally better to remove that bloat if it isn't necessary.

By the same light, passive sentences tend to hide the real objective of the sentence by burying the primary thought in meandering prose. While there's a time and place for that type of language, when it filters into your everyday speech, all it does is to make basic text harder to read.

I'm not arguing against passive language, just that authors need to be aware of when they're using it, and to recognize when they unintentionally interject it into their writing. It's an easy trap to fall in.

For me, it's just one of many things I review before I release any story, checking to ensure I'm not tripping over my own tongue. I'll be the first to admit that much of my writing is passive, but I'll also work to eliminate it whenever it isn't necessary.

My argument conflating multiple subjects (characters) with topics (one topic per paragraph) was simply highlighting potential issues with your approach, but that was purely argumentative. I wasn't suggesting one shouldn't use your approach, just that, in certain cases, it might become problematic.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I think the passive voice there is being caused by a writer seeking to being unclear about who did the action.

Therein lies the problem. Use of the passive voice, almost by definition, includes more information than is needed, and is frequently used to obscure meaning. If an author unintentionally slips into the passive voice, then they'll likely make their own meaning more difficult to follow.

As for how easy it is to write that kind of sentence, the reason I review my own work is because I often add unnecessary passive phrases which make the language harder to understand.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

If I was confident I had the right subject I would probably use an active 'buy' rather than a passive 'was sold', but an active 'sold' rather than a passive 'was bought'.

The Ass was sold unto Mary, who was forced to bundle it home to their abode. Translation: Mary bought a donkey and took it home. It might just be me, but unless I'm going for something, I'll typically take the latter.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

I meant 'using more words than is necessary.

I certainly agree with that. The passive often requires two extra words, some extra form of the be-verb added into the verb phrase and an extra preposition. It should not be favoured for that reason, but I'm not convinced looking for and trying to eliminate them is the right answer.
However, I'm beginning to suspect my suggestion to focus on the correct subject is not right either. As I look at examples (sometimes incorrectly) attributed to the inappropriate use of the passive I am leaning towards focusing on the correct verb and then attempting to use that with the "preferred" subject for the paragraph ... but still not bothering to look at whether the result is active or passive.

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

sometimes the passive is better.


Another reason for using passive in fiction is to keep something from the reader. For example, "Jill was carried out of the nightclub." Who carried her? The reader will have to wait to find out if he's ever told.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ross at Play


However, I'm beginning to suspect my suggestion to focus on the correct subject is not right either. As I look at examples (sometimes incorrectly) attributed to the inappropriate use of the passive I am leaning towards focusing on the correct verb and then attempting to use that with the "preferred" subject for the paragraph ... but still not bothering to look at whether the result is active or passive.


I believe you're over analyzing it. I wouldn't concentrate on the verb. "Jill was carried by Jack" and "Jack carried Jill" both use the same verb. It's not the verb.

"Was" is a red flag for me when I'm editing. Usually it's when I write "was running" when I mean "ran," but sometimes it's passive (although for me that's rare). When I see "was" I look at the sentence to make sure it's what I meant. I don't look for a formula.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

If an author unintentionally slips into the passive voice

That is precisely what I think can be avoided if an author is asking themselves the right questions. I do not think, 'Is this sentence using the passive voice?' is the right question.
I think the right questions come before that and the result of asking those will be an author only writes using the passive voice when it is the correct thing to do. I feel sure that is so (I'm about as confident as I was Clinton would win the election) but I can't quite figure out what those right questions are.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
richardshagrin

@Ross at Play

I would probably use an active 'buy' rather than a passive 'was sold', but an active 'sold' rather than a passive 'was bought'.

The choice between buy and sell might be influenced if the story was about a car salesman or a guy who wants to buy a new car.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

By 'confusing', I meant 'using more words than is necessary.


Sorry, using more words that absolutely necessary does not necessarily make something more confusing.

Nor does saying something in the fewest possible words necessarily make it clearer.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

I believe you're over analyzing it.

Sure, because that's the best way of learning just about everything!

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

Sure, because that's the best way of learning just about everything!


Except you're creating rules that aren't applicable. Passive isn't the verb. It's all about the subject. In active, the subject in the sentence performs the verb. In passive, the subject receives the action of the verb.

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

Who carried her?


The tsunami did it when it wiped out the night club.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Except you're creating rules that aren't applicable. Passive isn't the verb. It's all about the subject. In active, the subject in the sentence performs the verb. In passive, the subject receives the action of the verb.

So IT IS the verb which is active/passive when the action is done/received by the subject.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

As I look at examples (sometimes incorrectly) attributed to the inappropriate use of the passive I am leaning towards focusing on the correct verb and then attempting to use that with the "preferred" subject for the paragraph ... but still not bothering to look at whether the result is active or passive.

That's the approach favored by most writing experts. They suggest changing the passive verbs to action verbs to make the passages more direct and less ... wordy or weak.

Again, I'm not arguing for the abandonment of passive text, as I use it often in my books, just that many authors need to be aware of it. As many of us grew up writing passive language in classes, businesses and organizations, we've all learned how to 'hide the message', and we often rely on that without even thinking about it.

@Switch

Another reason for using passive in fiction is to keep something from the reader. For example, "Jill was carried out of the nightclub." Who carried her? The reader will have to wait to find out if he's ever told.

As I've noted before, another common use of passive language (not necessarily be-verbs) is that it's often used to denote doubt, as in circumstances where someone is unsure of which option is best, or even whether their position is ultimately true or not. There's really no way to make a character's doubt more 'direct' or active, it simply is what it is. As such, it too introduces doubt, which will only be resolved as the story progresses--often a vital story element.

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Ross at Play


I feel sure that is so (I'm about as confident as I was Clinton would win the election) but I can't quite figure out what those right questions are.


Uh, who's voting and what are they willing to overlook to change things in politics? Maybe they were after more direct (active) language from Washington?

@D.S.

Sorry, using more words that absolutely necessary does not necessarily make something more confusing.

Nor does saying something in the fewest possible words necessarily make it clearer.


No, but often, an excess of words is a clear marker that a given passage isn't well formulated. Again, it's not a forbidden 'law', rather it's a red flag to alert you to reexamine something to determine whether it was truly what you wanted to say in the first place. (Whew! Talk about passive phrasing!)

After having spent the last year making my writing more concise, I'm not reversing course, trying to find the right balance between verbose and concise. Often, that difference isn't in how many words you use, but allowing your characters the chance to express their doubts and conflicts, which often involves passive language rather than merely passive verbs).

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Passive isn't the verb. It's all about the subject. In active, the subject in the sentence performs the verb. In passive, the subject receives the action of the verb.

I'd argue for a less precise definition of passive. It's neither the subject nor the verb, instead it's a way of speaking designed to introduce doubt. Sometimes you want uncertainty, but many times, you want to eliminate doubt in the reader's mind. That's where it gets tricky. How many details do you dump into the readers' laps until they start getting confused?

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

No, but often, an excess of words is a clear marker that a given passage isn't well formulated.


Again, that doesn't mean that the passage's meaning is in the least bit confusing.

Stop using the word confusing when you mean something else entirely.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


I'd argue for a less precise definition of passive.


I'd argue for you to go away and find the correct definition for what you're on about.

You're going to cause confusion here by calling what you wrote "passive phrasing". Perhaps "infinitive-ridden atrocity" is a more apt description of that example.

Just spotting verbs in the passive voice is already very tough without confusion being created about what really is "passive".

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

It's neither the subject nor the verb, instead it's a way of speaking designed to introduce doubt


Doubt is one use. Not pointing a finger (blame) is another which is used in business all the time. But it is about the subject. I Googled OWL (Purdue University) and this is their definitions:

In a sentence using active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action expressed in the verb.

In a sentence using passive voice, the subject is acted upon; he or she receives the action expressed by the verb. The agent performing the action may appear in a "by the..." phrase or may be omitted.

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

So IT IS the verb which is active/passive when the action is done/received by the subject.


No, it's whether the subject does the action defined by the verb (active) or the action is done to the subject (passive).

Is the subject doing it (active) or is it being done to the subject (passive)?

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


No, it's whether the subject does the action defined by the verb (active) or the action is done to the subject (passive).

Is the subject doing it (active) or is it being done to the subject (passive)?


The glossary for grammatical terms I use is about.com.

It lists all 23 forms of the verb eat at: http://esl.about.com/od/grammarstructures/a/v_eat.htm

Of those 23 verb tenses, 8 are "passive" and all 8 have a corresponding active tense.

The examples for the first active/passive pair are:


Present Simple

I usually eat at six o'clock.

Present Simple Passive

Dinner is usually eaten at six o'clock.


IT IS the tense of verbs that is either active or passive.

The subject of a sentence changes when you change from an active tense to its corresponding passive. In the above examples the subjects are I and Dinner.

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The 'actor' doing the action of the verb also changes - from the subject of the sentence to the object. That is why the passive voice does not exist for any intransitive verb.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ross at Play

I have found this discussion very helpful, despite the confusion of some about what the term "passive" actually means to the rest of us.
My initial thought was authors should

focus on choosing the correct subject for sentences - and if that produces sentences with the passive voice they will not cause any particular problems.

I now think that is part of what authors should do - but should not be their primary focus.
I can now see two imperatives if authors are to achieve the objective of making their writing as easy as possible for readers to understand:
1. Each paragraph should be about one topic and completely cover that topic, and
2. Readers should know what the subject is for every sentence within the first few words, and also for every clause within a complex sentence.
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Authors often do have options to show the same idea with sentences using different subjects. When that is so, they should usually prefer to use the same subject as in previous sentences. That is what readers expect to happen most frequently, and it is easier for them when it is so. If doing that requires a sentence using the passive voice it will very probably be one of the (relatively few) situations when the passive voice is best.
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I suggest authors employ the following mindset when writing first drafts. As always, they should consider revisions of their first cut for other reasons, but I'm confident doing this will produce something that is okay - and at least avoid the problems so often caused when writers use the passive voice without making a conscious decision to do so.
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Once you have decided the idea you want to convey look for the action it contains; then decide what verbs could convey that action.
1. If the action is intransitive you will have no choice about the subject of the sentence, but you MUST ensure readers know what the subject is immediately. That is always so with sentences written in the usual way - with the subject first. However, you CANNOT use any sort of introductory clause if the subject is not the same one you have been using whenever possible throughout the current paragraph/topic.
2. If the action is transitive you may have the luxury of having two verbs to choose between which describe the same action but with different subjects (for example, buy or sell, give or take). You should then prefer to use the same subject as throughout the current paragraph; then choose whichever verb uses that subject with the active voice.
3. If the action is transitive and you have decided on a particular verb you might then need to choose between using the active or passive voice. If the subject you have been using throughout the current paragraph receives the action of that verb it is probably the right time to use that subject with the verb in the passive voice.
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I have mentioned there is often a cost of two extra words when an idea is written using the passive voice instead of the active: there are ways of clawing back some of that cost.
One saving is available when it is truly irrelevant who or what did the action of a verb. You might then omit the prepositional clause naming them.
My inclination (just for the writing of first drafts) would be to start a new sentence for every new step or idea. Once the paragraph is completed I would then look for the best sentences to join together. It should be easier to join the most closely related ideas when as many sentences as possible have the same subject. There is typically be a small saving to the word count every time sentences with the same subject are joined together.

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

IT IS the tense of verbs that is either active or passive.


It's the sentence structure that determines active or passive. Depending on the sentence structure there may be another form of the verb. I guess it's the chicken and egg. I see the subject driving it and then grammar rules determine the correct verb.

Whereas tense is driven by the verb.

Replies:   Ross at Play
richardshagrin

@Crumbly Writer

that difference isn't in how many words you use

Writers used to be paid by the word. I am pretty sure Dickens was, most of his stories appeared in newspapers before they became books. Most classic Science Fiction Writers were paid a few cents a word by "Astounding" or other pulp science fiction magazines. So the decision between verbose and concise had a financial motivation.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


It's the sentence structure that determines active or passive.


No! You have that arse about - the sentence structure is determined by whether the verb is active or passive.

When the verb is active, the subject of the sentence performs the action and the object of the sentence receives the action.
For example, Jack (subject) carried Jill (object) home

When the verb is passive, the subject of the sentence receives the action and the object of the sentence performs the action.
For example, Jill (subject) was carried home by Jack (object)

CMOS 5.114 'Five properties of verbs' states:
A verb has five properties: voice, mood, tense, person, and number.

CMOS 5.115 'Active and passive voice' begins with:
Voice shows whether the subject acts (active voice) or is acted on (passive voice)—that is, whether the subject performs or receives the action of the verb. Only transitive verbs are said to have voice.

Perhaps you would rather trust Grammar Girl?

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/passive-voice states:

What Is Passive Voice?
You can't make an intransitive verb passive.
Once you know about active voice, the definition for passive voice is pretty simple. It's a verb form that meets two requirements ...

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Slutsinger

I read much of the thread, and tried to follow the advice that was given to search sentences for 'was'. See how I cleverly embrace the passive-obscurative form to avoid having to look up whether that was CW or Earnest giving the advice?:-)

In trying to revise one of my chapters and think about all the 'was' verbs I found an interesting example.

"Porpoise was called and soon had Lord Morgan Hobbled."

Ah, that's passive, and really, something more active could involve the reader.

"Dolphin called Porpoise and soond had Lord Morgan hobbled."

Wait! Dolphin is too busy holding a gun; she doesn't have time for rope work. My subject has gotten away from me.

"Dolphin called Porpoise and she soond had Lord Morgan hobbled."

Hmm, does that say what I think it says? Chicago Style says that she binds to Porpoise and so it's Porpoise with the rope. And so long as I can count on all my readers remembering that obscure paragraph in chapter 5, I'm good. Hmm, that doesn't sound like something I can count on. It's probably OK, but it's more confusing.

"Dolphin called Porpoise, and Porpoise soond had Lord Morgan hobbled."

(And yes, the comma should have been in the last version too) That's starting to sound ugly. I could introduce a full stop, but we're getting distracted. Ross's right at least in this instance: minimizing subjects helps the clarity. Besides, who the fuck cares if it is Dolphin doing the calling or Rabbit at the desk?

So I ended up right where I started, with fewer subjects, more clarity and passive voice.

I do find looking for was to be useful at least as an exercise though. I'm more finding other wordings that can be tightened, although I'm not really thinking about passive voice. Honestly I find figuring out whether something is even passive voice tricky: predicate nominatives with past participles, past progressive tense, and passive voice all look similar. Since I'm not taking a grammar test, I find I avoid making that call when I can.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

CMOS 5.115 'Active and passive voice' begins with:
Voice shows whether the subject acts (active voice) or is acted on (passive voice)—that is, whether the subject performs or receives the action of the verb. Only transitive verbs are said to have voice.


Maybe I said it wrong, but the quote from CMoS is what I meant. Active/passive begins with the subject. Does the subject do the action (verb) or does the subject receive the action (verb).

Switch Blayde

@Slutsinger

Besides, who the fuck cares if it is Dolphin doing the calling or Rabbit at the desk?


When I first read your passive sentence that's exactly what I said to myself. What's important was that Porpoise was called. So since who called him is not important, the original passive version is fine.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I'd argue for you to go away and find the correct definition for what you're on about.

You're going to cause confusion here by calling what you wrote "passive phrasing". Perhaps "infinitive-ridden atrocity" is a more apt description of that example.

You're absolutely right. I wasn't thinking 'passive verbs' or even passive subjects, but was instead conflating a style of writing where the style is more 'passive' (i.e. less direct and more open to interpretation).

I've been using autocrit for years, which highlights 'passive language', so I've long conflated the terms for anything that isn't direct. In my view ("be" verbs are passive, as is text that is more convoluted.

As such, you should all ignore most of what I've said here. However, I'm still concerned with writing that waffles and doesn't get to the point. While it's valuable in many instances, it generally weakens a story unnecessarily when used inappropriately (or when it's used unconsciously).

But that's really a separate topic for another thread. :(

richardshagrin

@Crumbly Writer

In my view ("be" verbs are passive

The motto of the University of Washington is "Lux Sit" which translates "let there be light." That doesn't sound passive to me. Sit is the imperative form of esse, to be.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

The motto of the University of Washington is "Lux Sit" which translates "let there be light." That doesn't sound passive to me. Sit is the imperative form of esse, to be.

There's always, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth." Depending on whether the subject is "God" or "the Beginning", it could be either passive or passive-aggressive. ;D

Or consider the alternative: "Let there be light" or "God lit the giant gas ball over the Earth on fire, and then fed the flames with his almighty farts!" 'D

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


You're absolutely right.


Thank you, and I understand fully how you got there ... I'll be eating my own piece of humble pie soon too.

A frequent annoyance I find here is the lack of a common glossary of technical terms.
* You have been using passive when you should have been more specific and used passive language.
* I have been using passive when I should have been more specific and used passive voice, which only ever applies to verbs.
* Switch Blayde has been using passive to describe subjects in a way academic linguists would not - but the way he was looking at it is actually the most practical way for writers here to think when they're trying to determine if the verb has passive voice. (To SB - that was me eating my nasty piece of pie :-)

***
Will those who frequent here have a look at grammar.about.com (and esl.about.com, a companion site for 'English as a second language'). I find it very well researched and written. It contains precise and easy-to-understand definitions and descriptions of most grammatical and literary terms. I am hoping we will all start using it as of go-to reference whenever a precise definition of some term is needed.

***
Can we at least agree on banning the unadorned use of the words active and passive here? I would like us to insist those terms always specify whether they mean the verb, the subject, the entire sentence, voice, or language.

***
Please do start a new thread on "passive language". It would certainly helpful to newer writers here.
I'm about to start a new thread on how to find and fix "passive sentences". For some I'll over analyse it to buggery, but I'm sure it will help those you want to understand to fine details.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

A frequent annoyance I find here is the lack of a common glossary of technical terms.
You have been using passive when you should have been more specific and used passive language.
I have been using passive when I should have been more specific and used passive voice, which only ever applies to verbs.

I was a mit confused, as "passive voice" sounds suspiciously similar to "passive language" (at least from an author's point of voice (3rd Limited, in this case). Because I've been wrestling with the concepts for so long, I never even thought to research the original terms. Duh!

That said, I have to agree with Switch, the phrasing of the terms makes it sound like whether a verb is passive or active relies, not on the verb, but on how the subject is referred to (thus the verb is directly dependent upon the subject, making it ipso-facto a dependent relationship).

As for passive language, the main warning is that it's similar to 'passive-aggressive action by authors', in that it describes story details in a way that short circuits their attempts to tell their stories, making the story more difficult to understand because they're afraid readers won't 'get' the more nuanced issues they're trying to lecture them on. Just as passive-aggressive actions from lovers, it's generally an unrecognized action on their part, and thus deserves a concerted effort to curtail.

'Nuff said!

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

That said, I have to agree with Switch, the phrasing of the terms makes it sound like whether a verb is passive or active relies, not on the verb, but on how the subject is referred to (thus the verb is directly dependent upon the subject, making it ipso-facto a dependent relationship).

I agree too that is the best way for human beings to look at sentences to decide if they are active or passive.
I have looking been looking at that in the way defined by a bunch of mindless zombies - academic grammarians down through the centuries!
The way I will look at it in my new thread may only be suitable for current and former computer programmers - and all other kinds of mindless robots who come here. :-)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

The way I will look at it in my new thread may only be suitable for current and former computer programmers - and all other kinds of mindless robots who come here. :-)

Does that include the reader-bots who looking been looking at new reading material?

P.S. Ross, to paraphrase a common sci-fi conundrum, if you were a bot, would you recognize the fact?

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

I am one of the former computer programmers. Me not bot. Them bots.

Ernest Bywater

I thought a Passive Voice was best done this way:

Mark turned to her, and said, in a very contrite and soft voice, "Sorry, Mistress."

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

No! That should be:

She was told by Mark, in a very contrite and soft voice, "Sorry, Mistress."

Replies:   Slutsinger
Slutsinger

@Ross at Play

Will those who frequent here have a look at grammar.about.com (and esl.about.com, a companion site for 'English as a second language'). I find it very well researched and written. It contains precise and easy-to-understand definitions and

And a year from now you won't use it except for talking to people who are new to editing and writing. It has precise definitions that are incomplete and don't describe language as used. The issue is that advanced high-school grammar, which is about what that site gives you, covers a lot, but there are huge chunks of idiomatic and colloquial language that don't fit those definitions.
And the grammars that do cover those things...well I think I've pointed you at some of the edges of those, and there are good reasons we don't use them at all outside of graduate linguistics courses.
I agree grammar.about.com is a really great site, but I have fairly high confidence you'll out grow it, and for that reason it's kind of hard to ask people in a larger community to standardize on it. That said, I do agree it's good for the cases it covers.

Slutsinger

@Ross at Play

She was told by Mark, in a very contrite and soft voice, "Sorry, Mistress."

There was anger! For 'told' is not 'said' and the discussion of 'said' has been had again and again. No! It was thus.
On to her was said, "Sorry, mistress." And to her was given in apology the most exquisite of orgasms. The anger was replaced.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Slutsinger

I surrender. I'd be bad at BD, and apparently I'd be bad at SM too.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@Ross at Play

"I surrender. I'd be bad at BD, and apparently I'd be bad at SM too."

There is a chance, probably a good one, that the discussion was about D/s (Domination and submission) not either Bondage and Disciple or Sadism and Masochism. That is why SOL offers the choices of "light bondage" (by lasers?) or BDSM which includes all of the above, no need to specify which of BD, DS, or SM.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@richardshagrin

I get all tied up in knots with all kinds of modern technology, so perhaps there is some type of role I could play?

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@Ross at Play

It seems to me you play the role of Ross.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@richardshagrin


It seems to me you play the role of Ross.


You've got that right! Sometimes it's a living hell too - being trapped in a play with a bloody awful playwright.

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