1. pixieloulou1982
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    pixieloulou1982 New Member

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    Microsoft word grammar check

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by pixieloulou1982, Feb 26, 2011.

    I hold my hand up, I am awful at grammar. I know the basics, but Microsoft word likes to rub my face in my won mistakes repeatedly. When I check over any of my work I always get that "incomplete sentence." error. With fiction, especially if you are writing a dramatic scene, is the structure of a sentence really that important.

    Example being, according to the illustrious Microsoft word simply putting:

    She Ran.

    Sets off the grammar alarm bells.

    Also, passive and active voice... Is passive voice really that bad? It confuses me.
     
  2. Dandroid
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    Dandroid Senior Member

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    passive voice has been used successfully..see maragaret atwood...however it is considered...weak
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The structure of a sentence is extremely important. But that's not the same as saying that it has to be textbook-correct. Sometimes you'll deliberately violate grammar rules for effect. However, to know how to violate them with skill, I think that you need to know how to use them correctly in the first place, so that violation is a carefully crafted choice.

    For the sentence "She ran," I'd need to see the context to have an opinion.

    Passive voice is very often (certainly not always) a bad thing. However, I wouldn't trust a grammar checker to correctly judge what is or isn't passive voice--grammar checkers are mindless things, and passive voice is pretty difficult to diagnose without understanding the sentence.

    Edited to add: In fact, I'd say that grammar checkers are useful primarily to point out mistakes that you already _know_ are mistakes, but that you failed to see because they stem from a typo or a failure to complete an editing change. They're no good for teaching you grammar.

    ChickenFreak
     
  4. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends on the context of the story, really. Passive voice and fragment sentences are the number one thing I ignored in Word's checker when I was still using Word. Generally if you're using sentences it thinks are fragments for drama, you're not doing anything wrong. However, if hundreds of them are being flagged up, you may want to cut back just because using any literary device too many times makes it boring for the reader. It would be the same as them encountering alliteration of 4 or more words on every single page.

    As for passive voice, it's much more debated. Everyone knows in their heart it's bad, but believes they can pull it off. I've used a website called editminion.com which flags up all the passive voice in glowing purple, and seeing it like that made me understand how lazily I was constructing sentences - most times I could change it to something else, leaving the passive voice exclusively in thoughts, conversation, and a few scenes which start with a time skip and need some summarising. Anything in the action, I changed.

    So, let me go grab the latest unedited scene of my passive-voice riddled work and show you what I mean (this is set in past tense):

    Flagged up, probably is passive voice, I'm keeping it since it's the opening line of a new scene, and I usually introduce in what may be passive voice or may just be present tense since it's easier and introduces things fast, and if the character is thinking that way, I let him. I could say "had ridden" but... eh. Prefer the way the other sounds in the context of the whole sentence and it's not doing any harm up there.

    But then:

    "was beginning" and "was peering" both got picked up by the editing site, and I KNOW those are bad sentences I just wrote quickly without thinking while introducing the idea.

    So changed to "had begun" and "peered" and tada, lazy sentences fixed.

    Editminion rates your piece on how often things like that turn up, and it allows you a fair bit of passive voice before the rating turns from green to red. It's not saying you can't use any at all, merely pointing out if you use it way too much, which, though I'm not taking it as divine authority, suggests you can and will use some. :p Just pick which bits.

    *goes to carry on editing*
     
  5. pixieloulou1982
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    pixieloulou1982 New Member

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    Thank you all so much, I think when I am brave enough to submit some of my work to be reviewed the passive voice issue is something I feel I need others insight into, as it really does confuse me. I tend to review my own work by reading it out loud to gather the flow of it all. Thanks guys
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Re:

    "By sunrise I was riding [somewhere spoilerific that gives away far too much :p]

    by her appearance was beginning to pull at it and shake that look.

    She was peering around in confusion,"


    See, this is what I mean about grammar checkers and passive voice--none of these examples are passive voice. The grammar checker is entirely wrong when it claims that they are.

    Edited to add: Truly passive voice sentences that use similar words would be:

    By sunrise the horse was being ridden by me to... [somewhere spoilerific]

    Her surroundings were being peered at by her...

    That look was being pulled at and shaken by her appearance...


    ChickenFreak
     
  7. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, but it's still not very good writing. The full context of one example is:

    After a second of staring in total confusion I realised that it was my mother. She [was peering] around in confusion, and asked,

    by saying "was peering" instead of "peered" I do put the action back one removed step, as it's meant to be past tense, and that sentence at least is in 3rd person. When I say "she peered around" it's an immediate action, while "was peering" makes the reader much more aware that Sael is narrating the story - something I play off a lot since from his wider narrating it's clear he's writing it down as a chronicle or something, and uses a quite bored, abstracted way of relating a lot of events for a certain emotional effect - things he doesn't want to talk about. I this case, though, he focusses quite strongly and honestly on his feelings about his chance encounter with his half-crazy mother, so using lots of "was doing this" instead of "did this" removes the contrast of effective, strong language. I'd call that a SORT of passive voice, even if it's not terrible sentence structure, narration-wise it's more passive than the other kind of phrasing.

    Don't really care what it's called - it looks bad, grammar checkers flag it up, and I change it where I need to. :p the important thing is I write awesome scenes.

    (well, when I edit out that repetition of "confusion"... :p)
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes but it also picks up things that are in the past and being reported. Things that actually should be in passive voice.

    Mine also objects to words like lady as being potentially offensive lol.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that the term for what you're objecting to in your examples is "past continuous tense."

    "Passive voice" refers to a very specific type of grammatical construction; it's not just a general descriptive term intended to refer to writing that sounds passive and quiet versus energetic and active.

    I understand that you don't care what the writing that you dislike is called, but calling it passive voice would be sort of like referring to adverbs as verbs or even referring to nouns as verbs--people are going to be thoroughly confused as to what you mean.

    ChickenFreak
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But those things shouldn't be in the passive voice, because simply using the word "was" doesn't make something passive.

    _None_ of the following are passive voice:

    She was eating snails on toast.
    He was riding a bicycle, and she was on the roof, cheering him on.
    The car was blue.
    James was painting the car blue.
    He was angry, because she was singing very badly.


    If I wanted to make them passive voice, I would change them to:

    Snails on toast were being eaten by her.
    A bicycle was being ridden by him, and the roof was being sat on by her, as cheers were being emitted by her.
    Blue paint was being held together by the car.
    The car was being painted blue by James.
    Anger was felt by him, because a song was being performed, badly, by her.


    ChickenFreak
     
  11. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I went to a rubbish school that never taught me these things. :p I'm gonna blame Tony Blair for all my failings. :D
     
  12. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some things need to be passive voice. Even if:
    'He was besotted by her.'
    gets flagged, I know that
    'She besotted him.'
    is plain ridiculous, and if I want a gossipy tone in a historical romance, there's no other way to say it that works as well.

    There is no law that says you must ONLY use active, just don't use passive all the time. And it isn't 'weak' to use passive voice if you want the attention focussed on the object, as in the above example.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    pay attention to chicken freak, everybody!

    and don't go around calling [or even thinking of] wording as 'passive voice' when it's not...

    to whomever it was who claimed margaret atwood uses it:
    please provide some examples, because i can't imagine her doing so when it wasn't called for...
     
  14. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's no need to make a proclamation turning me into a warning for everyone else. Or, worse, just directing that right at me for having a fail-ducation. I feel like I'm sitting in the corner wearing a dunce cone now. Thanks.

    It sounded passive, I made a logical deduction because that's basically all the smarts I apparently have left. :p
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i wasn't targeting you, mel... this comes up frequently here and on the other sites i help out on, so you've plenty of company in getting it wrong...
     
  16. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, but that "when it wasn't called for" is an important qualification, isn't it? There's nothing at all wrong with the passive voice used appropriately. There's only a problem with passive voice used badly, but unfortunately that happens often enough to give the voice a bad reputation.
     
  17. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    MS word/grammar check frequently flags or suggests poor wording for the sentences I write.

    It is good to identify typos, or simple mistakes but I do know I make mistakes that aren't caught by the checker.
     

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