Saturday, September 8, 2007

Seek and Destroy: The Passive Voice

If you need more practice identifying and eliminating the passive voice, take a peek at the University of Calgary's page on voice. While I am not fond of the use of foreground as a verb, the rest of the page provides good tips and exercises.

I read a few sites about this every week because I know that a facility for eliminating that pesky passivity improves my writing. I'm trying to make it a habit to write actively. I come across sites that offer weak or too-easy examples and ones that give good advice.

For example, there's the lesson plan site that tells teachers to “Invite students to search for examples of passive voice in environmental literature...” Once you understand that they mean things in their environment rather than critiquing only the pamphlets of “green” groups, it's a great idea.

I think of writing like any other activity – practice equals improvement. If I wanted to improve my basketball game, I'd practice the particular shots that I found difficult. Since I want to write tighter, more effective sentences I practice finding and removing extraneous words.

The passive voice introduces those words because you have to work around your subject, taking the long way to the action. You can write a languid, story about a powerless or depressed character in the passive voice. The passivity is rather the point of the piece. But if that poor character ever gets a backbone or extricates himself from the situation the passive voice will only slow him down. He'll need to get active or your readers won't be convinced that he actually did anything.




You brought out some great points here. Very nicely written!



Thanks, and welcome!