Inside Scoop: Passive Voice

As a way of saying thanks to those of you who follow or like or just regularly bounce in, I am going to experiment with a weekend feature. Many of you have blogs or write Facebook posts. And sometimes you struggle with spellings, grammar, and structure. Let me offer some tips. Thus, Inside Scoop.

These will not be super technical Oxford dictionary, Grammarly or Grammar Girl tips. Just something to help with common mistakes.

Passive Voice

If I am going to give advice, let’s go with one of the big ones that affect and afflict writers. And, full disclosure, when I run my copy through Grammarly, it yells at me about this. Sometimes I will ignore because I am using “passive voice” for dramatic effect. But most times I go back in and correct.

So how can you tell if you have made the faux pas of a “passive voice?” Use zombies.

Zombies?

The village is haunted. This is “passive voice.” The village isn’t doing the haunting, is it?

Chickens are being cooked. “Passive voice” again. The chickens certainly are not doing the cooking.

Let’s break it down. You have created “passive voice” by positioning the noun being acted upon (village and chickens) into being the sentence subjects

The village is haunted by zombies. Does this make grammatical sense? You need to rewrite. Zombies haunted the house. See?

Chickens are being cooked by zombies. This makes grammatical sense to you, correct?  Zombies cooked the chickens.

Yes, I know zombies neither “haunt” nor “cook” but you see my point.

Let’s test this with some other sentences I just used.

Does this make grammatical sense by zombies? No. That is an “active voice.”

You need to rewrite by zombies. No. That is also “active voice.”

Most any sentence (nothing is absolute) in which you can tag by zombies is a candidate for “passive voice.”

Rebecca Johnson, a professor of Culture & Ethics, is identified as having suggested this method (credit where credit is due). Thank you, Rebecca!

 

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