1. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    Passive Voice

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by GoldenGhost, Jan 19, 2012.

    My question is the difference between active/passive voice and its role in fiction, specifically fantasy. Should you do without passive voice completely? Or does it play a role? And how do you make a decision on where and when passive voice is applicable if at all?
     
  2. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    I don't think that passive has anything to do with the genre of a story.
    Or may be I am understanding what you mean.
    Passive iswhen the writer is in charge of the script and active is when the characters are in charge


    see this

    He said he knew all along about the flying saucers.
    Or
    He said excintingly: ''I knew all along about the flying saucer''
     
  3. CH878
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    CH878 Active Member

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    No, active is when the subject does the verb, passive is when the subject is acted upon by the verb.
     
  4. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    can you give some examples to explain what you mean?
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    It's the difference between "The boy kicked the ball" and "The ball was kicked by the boy", to give one example. The generic advice is always choose the active voice, to which I call bullshit. They sound different, they're structured differently, and so they have different effects on tone, pace, mood, etc. Generally, the active form is the one used in English anyway, but there are definitely instances where the passive voice may be a better fit.

    It's also interesting to note that the obsession with active voice isn't at all universal, and in some languages, the opposite bias exists.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    passive isn't usually effective in any kind of fiction, regardless of genre... there may be places where it can be used for effect, but i can't think of any way it could be necessary, or a better choice than active...

    i'd like to see examples to prove me wrong, if anyone can think of some...
     
  7. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You ask for examples? IMO, Passive is better and more to the point in sentences like:
    He was obsessed with/besotted by her.
    The bodice was embroidered with seed pearls.

    About genre: well you can probably see from the above that I'm writing almost exclusively historical romance these days, and passives do seem to crop up a lot. I try not to overuse them though, and I look for ways to make active suitable.

    I know the question is about fiction, but don't forget that for academic writing, passives are often better and more impersonal, and teachers prefer them,
    e.g.
    It could be argued that the internet is being overused by children these days.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    thanks!
     
  9. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Active is probably the one to go with maybe 95% of the time? Dunno if that's accurate, but it's probably close. In the majority of cases, use active. Use passive when you don't want to reveal the doer:

    "This man was murdered!" (you could argue that you could say "Someone murdered this man!" but it's not possible in all cases when the doer isn't known or unrevealed)

    or if the flow of the sentence needs to introduce the passive noun before the active, or when you want emphasis on the passive noun, like in madhoca's examples above. There are probably some other reasons I'm not thinking of right now. In my opinion, it's probably emphasis that dictates when to use passive most of the time.
     
  10. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    so are you saying that passive voice in this case is redundant because it is not a usfeul thing to use if the information is not given?
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, we mean that when we use passive and don't give the doer of the action, he/she/they is/are unknown, or not important, e.g. 'My house was painted yesterday' -- I really don't need to add 'by a painter' or have it in active form: 'A painter painted my house yesterday'. The important thing I am talking about is the house, not the painter, so I use passive structure and put it at the start of the sentence.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you need to use your own judgement on what feels right to you in any given sentence.
    Personally, I don't think about which of the two I am using, if I say that sentence in real life in a passive voice, I'll do the same in the book.
    But in terms of temperament, I perceive passive voice as slowing down, reflective and active voice as speeding up and "living in a moment" so to say. So depending on type of book you are writing, the balance of the two will vary, but as long as it doesn't read awkwardly, I think it's nothing to worry about too much.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are these really passive? I'm a bit unsure about the first, but I definitely don't see the second as passive, at least if it has the meaning that I think it does. I'm assuming that you mean it descriptively, like:

    The bodice was the picture of elegance; it was green and embroidered with seed pearls.
    as opposed to being part of an action, like:
    The shirt was stitched by Jane at the same time that the bodice was embroidered with seed pearls by Judy and the dinner was served by the butler.

    I understand that the descriptive phrase "embroidered with seed pearls" in my first example contains a verb (or at least a word that usually functions as a verb; is it actually a verb or an adjective in this context?), but to me it's still not an action, it's a description, and therefore it's not passive. Similar descriptive phrases including verbs (or adjectives-where-the-word-is-most-commonly-a-verb) might be:

    The house was made of wood and therefore required special insurance.
    The bracelet was covered with diamonds; it attracted the attention of every pickpocket in the room.
    Her hair was well-combed, but clearly unwashed.
    The dog was well-trained, so Joe agreed to board him.
    The child was well-bred, as evidenced by her nice manners.


    I think that none of these five sentences are passive voice.

    Edited to add: I feel the urge to transform these sentences into passive ones, to further explain what I mean:

    The house was made in July, and it was painted in September.
    The bracelet was covered in diamonds by the jeweler, and then it was polished by his assistant.
    Her hair was well-combed by her ladies' maid, and then she was dressed by her dressmaker.
    The dog was well-trained in obedience each Sunday, but forgot his training before the next day.
    ... OK, I can't find a passive use of "well-bred"; I think that it is entirely an adjective, even if "bred" is usually a verb.
     
  14. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Exactly right.

    It is the case, I gather, that many folk who think they know what it is, don't. If you require clarification, here is an unimpeachable resource:

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2922
     
  15. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    ??????????
    Passive:
    He was besotted by the girl.
    The bodice was embroidered with seed pearls.
    Active:
    The girl besotted him. (The verb sounds ridiculous like this, but it is grammatically correct)
    The seamstress embroidered/had embroidered seed pearls on the bodice. (It is pointless making this active if we are only interested in the appearance of the bodice. If we are describing what the seamstress did, then obviously active would be better.)

    It makes no difference to the grammar if you consider the verb to be an 'action' or 'descriptive' verb. You get into murky waters if you try and make judgements like this. A verb is a verb.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, mad, but chickenfreak's right, this is not an example of passive voice because one did not act upon the other... it's merely a descriptive sentence...

    you couldn't turn it into active voice and say, 'the seed pearls embroidered the bodice' now could you? [and, actually, pearls/sequins/etc. aren't 'embroidered'... they're merely 'sewn on'... embroidery is done only with colored threads... i've often done both as a professional clothing designer, costumer and seamstress, so know the whole realm of dressmaking intimately]

    however:

    ...would be passive voice... in your example you left out what acted upon the bodice, making it just a bit of imagery...

    and

    ...would be its reverse, active voice...
     
  17. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm. Apart from disagreeing with the 'one not acting on the other' statement--the same goes for many passive structures--I would say that:
    A little old lady encrusted the bodice with seed pearls.
    is quite comical and wrong, because a little old lady cannot 'encrust' anything! It's only the pearls that can do that. Likewise, the passive doesn't work, because they are not encrusted 'by a little old lady'.
    P.S. I was a trainee for 2 years full time and later part time at the famous costumiers, Berman and Nathans (they are Angels and Bermans now I think), before I went to university. We embroidered beads and pearls onto things with matching, not coloured, thread often, e.g. thin veils or overskirts. We didn't just 'sew them on' because the stitches are visible, e.g. when you do a flower pattern the thread is used to sew the stems as well as fix the beads. We called it embroidering. So I disagree with you again--sorry, no offence.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm increasingly confident that a verb may be a verb or the same word may be an adjective. If I Google for "definition embroidered adjective" and "definition besotted adjective", I find definitions. In fact, the Cambridge online dictionary's example of besotted, as an adjective, is _almost_ identical to the one we're discussing, though it uses "with" rather than "by". I'm absolutely confident that the construction using "with" is active; does 'by' convert the adjective to a verb? I still don't think so, but I'm less sure.

    Let's go to a word that's more commonly accepted and understood as either a verb or an adjective: "Painted". I say "The room was painted green.".

    This may refer to the actual act of getting out rollers and cans and painting the room, in which case "painted" is a verb and the construction is passive. ("The room was painted green. At the same time, the dishes were unpacked in the kitchen.")

    Or it can refer to the fact that the room's walls are presently covered in green paint, in which case "painted" is an adjective and the construction is not passive. ("The room was painted green and the furniture was very expensive.")

    Further use of "painted" as an adjective:

    "Is the room paneled?"
    "No, it's painted."

    "Does she like wallpaper?"
    "No, all of her walls are painted instead."

    "Let's take care of all those unfinished cabinets."
    "We did that yesterday; they're all painted now."

    Another pair of a passive verb and the use of the same word as an adjective in a non-passive way:

    "The chicken was fried by Jane."
    "My doctor said not to eat fried foods."
     
  19. CH878
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    CH878 Active Member

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    They can, they're known as non-finite verbs.

    In fact, a verb can be present participle adjective, a past participle adjective, an infinitive or a noun:

    the running tap - present participle adjective

    the smashed window - past participle adjective

    to run - infinitive

    running is good for you - noun
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the bodice is 'encrusted' by her act of sewing the pearls on...

    akin to this passive/active example:

    'the wall was covered with red paint by the little boy'...

    'the little boy covered the wall with red paint'...

    are you going to use the same argument there?... that the boy didn't cover it, only the paint did?...

    what about 'he covered the furniture with sheets'?
     
  21. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I disagree. It's a short passive: a passive voice in which the agent has been omitted. A sentence like "Mistakes were made by me" is passive (and just the sort of thing that gets passive a bad reputation), and "Mistakes were made" is also a passive even though the agent is omitted. If the sentence were merely "The bodice was embroidered" then I'd say you were both right, because it would be completely impossible to tell whether "embroidered" was a verb or an adjective: how to parse the sentence would be ambiguous. But adding "with seed pearls" (without a comma) resolves the ambiguity because as far as I can see only a verb can fit that grammatical position. That makes it passive (but a perfectly benign one: a good example of why passives are not necessarily bad).
     
  22. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are other things known as non-finite verbs too (notably infinitives) but yes.
     
  23. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are other things known as non-finite verbs too (notably infinitives) but yes.
     
  24. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wrong. "encrust | incrust, v. 1. trans. To ornament (a surface) by overlaying it with a crust of precious material. Also to encrust into." Oxford English Dictionary.
     
  25. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok, this has prompted me to finish the blog on passive voice that I started ages ago.
     

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