Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A Homework Assignment


I could care less about "I could care less," but I couldn't care less -- at least not a whole lot less -- about the passive voice.

If you're one of the haters, or a particularly enthusiastic cheerleader for the active voice, your assignment is to win me over to your side, without mentioning "Mistakes were made." Give me real-world examples of the passive voice just ruining everything, and keep your argument free of passivity.

9 comments:

Susan W. said...

I bet you don't get enough passive voice from Washington Post writers to make it an issue for you. But have you taught English composition to teenagers for 20 years? Try that and see if you become an enthusiastic cheerleader for the active voice.

I mean, I agree, a little bit of passive voice is fine, even welcome sometimes. Even unavoidable sometimes. But let's not encourage it among our youth!

Bill said...

OK, but I'm still waiting for real examples. Your pupils really write "A nice day was had by me"?

Lizard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill said...

That isn't passive, though, is it? Passive would be "Experiences and wisdom were shared by ..."

Whatever it is (subject-verb order reversal?), I like it in that instance, because otherwise you have to wade through nine minutes of reading subjects to get to the verb.

Bill said...

I cannot tell a lie: I found a real, live example yesterday.

The radio news guy told me about Republicans who say "the pullout from iraq has been poorly handled by the administration."

Ugh. There's a passive I'll pass on.

Jonathon said...

No, Lizard's example is not passive. It's just an awkward fronting of the verb to avoid an overly long wait until you get to the verb.

Susan W. brings up a good point, though. Rules like these often come from composition teachers who get tired of seeing the same clunky constructions in amateur writing over and over again. But this doesn't mean there's something wrong with the passive voice per se, only that there's something wrong with using it badly.

Jonathon said...

Found one for you, from a book we published several years ago. This is the opening line of a chapter: "Choices are made every day by people." I think we can all agree that that's a terrible sentence.

Bill said...

Wow. We have a winner!

Robyn said...

I'm going to agree with you, Bill. Sometimes when writing headlines (tight spaces) you have to choose what information to leave out. Sometimes the "what happened" is more important than the "who did it," so passive voice it is. Like when some panel makes an important public policy decision. People want to know what was decided more than who decided it, if all of that information can't fit in the headline.