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Passive voice

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An introduction to the passive voice and the three reasons people use passive voice: lazy reporting, thing being acted upon is more important than thing doing acting, unknown subject

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Passive voice

  1. 1. Editors cannot be passive about the passive voice Bradley Wilson, PhD June 2014
  2. 2. Pre-test • Write a sentence in present tense. • Write a different sentence in past tense. • Write yet a different sentence in passive voice. • Share. • Rewrite the passive voice sentence in active voice (if possible). If not possible, say why.
  3. 3. Verb tense • Past: The dog ate the bone. • Present: The dog eats the bone. • Future: The dog will eat the bone. • Present perfect: The dog has eaten a bone. • Past perfect: The dog had eaten a bone. • Future perfect: The dog will have eaten the bone.
  4. 4. Verb aspect • Past progressive: The dog was eating the bone. • Present progressive: The dog is eating the bone. • Future progressive: The dog will be eating the bone. • Present perfect progressive: The dog has been eating a bone. • Past perfect progressive: The dog had been eating a bone. • Future perfect: The dog will have been eating the bone. Has the action been completed?
  5. 5. Verb mood • Indicative: The dog ate the bone. • Imperative: Eat the bone! • Conditional: The dog could eat the bone. • Subjunctive: If I were you, I would let the dog eat the bone. How is the verb expressed: conveying a fact, a desire, a possibility or a command?
  6. 6. Verb voice • Active: The dog ate the bone. • Passive: The bone was eaten by the dog.
  7. 7. Passive voice • the voice used to indicate that the grammatical subject of the verb is the recipient (not the source) of the action denoted by the verb • grammatical term indicating that a subject has something done to it rather than performing the action itself • often, passive voice is considered weak writing and may, therefore, be undesirable to readers
  8. 8. Passive voice myths 1. Use of the passive voice constitutes a grammatical error. Use of the passive voice is not a grammatical error. It’s a stylistic issue that pertains to clarity. There are times when using the passive voice can prevent a reader from understanding what you mean.
  9. 9. Passive voice myths 2. Any use of “to be” (in any form) constitutes the passive voice. The passive voice entails more than just using a being verb. Using “to be” can weaken the impact of your writing, but it is occasionally necessary and does not by itself constitute the passive voice. • The dog is eating the bone. • The bone is being eaten by the dog.
  10. 10. Passive voice myths 3. The passive voice always avoids the first person; if something is in first person (“I” or “we”) it’s also in the active voice. On the contrary, you can very easily use the passive voice in the first person. 
 “I was hit by the flying frog.”
  11. 11. 4. You should never use the passive voice. While the passive voice may weaken the clarity of your writing, there are times when the passive voice is acceptable and even preferable. Passive voice myths
  12. 12. 5. You can rely on my grammar checker to catch the passive voice. The passive voice isn’t a grammar error. It’s not always caught by word-processor editors (or copyeditors). Typically, grammar checkers catch only a fraction of passive voice usage. ! Passive voice myths
  13. 13. Sometimes the passive voice is the best choice. Here are three instances when the passive voice is useful: 1. To emphasize an object. “At least 100 votes are required to pass the bill.” Or “Paul DeFries was charged in the murder.” 2. To de-emphasize an unknown subject/ actor. “More than 120 million barrels of oil per day were being allowed to leak into the Gulf.” Passive voice utilization
  14. 14. 3. If your readers don’t need to know who’s responsible for the action. Think like a reader to determine which is more important, the actor or the person being acted upon. Baby Sophia was delivered at 3:30 a.m. yesterday.(passive) and Dr. Susan Jones delivered baby Sophia at 3:30 a.m. yesterday.(active) ! The first sentence might be more appropriate in a birth announcement sent to family and friends—they are not likely to know Dr. Jones and are much more interested in the “object” (the baby) than in the actor (the doctor). A hospital report of yesterday’s events might be more likely to focus on Dr. Jones’ role. ! Passive voice utilization
  15. 15. From The New York Times Predictions are offered, but not guaranteed ! Suicide bomber and 2 killed in attack 
 at mall in Israeli town ! Dagestan shadow war fought by ‘Many Tsarnaevs’ ! 4 U.S. states struck by strong tornadoes ! Helper robots are steered, 
 tentatively, to care for aging Passive voice example
  16. 16. What you need to ask, as an editor, is whether or not passive voice is an excuse for bad reporting. • Is the person or thing being acted upon more important than the actor? • Is the person being acted upon known? • Does the reader need or want to know who is doing the acting? Passive voice = laziness
  17. 17. When possible and practical, use active voice. Passive voice
  18. 18. Don’t let passive voice 
 be an excuse for 
 lazy reporting. Passive voice
  19. 19. Bradley Wilson, PhD @bradleywilson09 ! June 2014 ! ! RESOURCE: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill