1. Crystal Parney
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    Crystal Parney Member

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    Passive Voice

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Crystal Parney, Aug 17, 2012.

    Hello everyone. I am curious about passive voice, versus past tense. I think I confuse them for one in the same. I've learned passive voice can disrupt the flow of a piece. Any tips on using passive voice, or trying not, or anything other ideas about passive voice?

    Thanks, Crystal
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    they're very much not 'one and the same'!

    active voice:
    he got the book

    passive voice:
    the book was given to him

    both are past tense... only one is 'passive'...

    google for 'passive vs active voice' and study what you find there from reputable sources... one i rely on is:
    http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/p.html

    scroll down to 'passive' for some good advice...

    here's another site i keep in my favorites menu and recommend to those i mentor:
    http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/passive.htm
     
  3. Crystal Parney
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    Crystal Parney Member

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    Thanks Mam for the links.
     
  4. E. C. Scrubb
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    E. C. Scrubb Active Member

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    The easiest way I remember it is . . .

    Past tense - something happened in the past.

    Passive voice. something happened to someone
     
  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Passive voice can also come about when you add a lot of unnecessary jargon or rob your sentence of
    it's initial impact.

    His head was swinging round, after, he felt the blow of Esmeralda's hand striking his face.

    Better -

    Esmerald smashed him across the face, nearly unhinging his jaw.
     
  6. Kena Edawna
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    Kena Edawna New Member

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    Thank you. I will bookmark this.

     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There is another distinction worth making: Passive voice vs passive verbs.

    Passive voice is when the actor of a verb is not the subject of the sentence.

    Who murdered the victim? Unspecified.

    The murderer is still unknown, but appears as the subject of the sentence, as The killer.

    Passive verbs may be in active voice, but are passive, or static, in that there is little or no activity associated with the verb. The most common passive verb is a form of to be:

    Both these sentences are in active voice, but the verbs are lazy and passive. It need not be a form of the verb to be, however:

    Mildred stood. Mildred watched. Mildred may as well be planted on the lawn next to the lawn jockey and the flamingos. Active voice, but passive verbs.

    It is not necessarily bad to have passive voice or passive verbs. They do have a definite place in writing. However, active verbs in active voice are what bring vitality to a story.
     
  8. E. C. Scrubb
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    E. C. Scrubb Active Member

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    That's a great point, and very true.
     
  9. Crystal Parney
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    Crystal Parney Member

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    When would a passive voice be best used? How is it best used?
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Passive voice is useful when you want to reveal an action while withholding information about the actor. It's also useful when you want to de-emphasize the action itself.

    De-enphasizing an action can heighten a subsequent high action scene by contrast.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually, this isn't passive voice, it's past progressive tense. If we wanted to make it passive, it would looks something like:

    His head was swung around by the blow from Esmerelda's hand.

    While the active version would be:

    Esmerelda's blow swung his head around.

    And that suddenly makes me see how the "past versus passive" confusion may have happened for the original poster - both _can_ be characterized by the word "was". (Though passive voice only uses 'was' when it's also in past tense.)

    In passive voice, the subject of the sentence is being acted on, rather than acting. Examples:

    Passive: The dog was washed by Joe. (The subject is the dog, but it's Joe that's taking the action. The subject, the dog, is being passive.)
    Active: Joe washed the dog. (The subject is Joe, and Joe is the one taking action. The subject, Joe, is being active.)

    The above are in past tense, but they can also be in present tense, as shown below:

    Passive: The dog is being washed by Joe.
    Active: Joe is washing the dog.

    Or you can use past progressive tense, which uses "was" in either of my examples, thus demonstrating that "was" doesn't mean passive voice:

    Passive: The dog was being washed by Joe.
    Active: Joe was washing the dog.

    More examples:

    Passive: The TV was watched by Mom and Dad.
    Active: Mom and Dad watched TV.

    Passive: The garden was weeded this weekend.
    Active: We weeded the garden this weekend.


    The above demonstrates an area where passive voice is temptingly useful - you can avoid naming the entity that is taking the action. But it's usually better to find a way to name that actor.

    Passive: The costumes are mostly used by the younger children.
    Active: The younger children are the primary users of the costumes.


    Sometimes it's harder to "flip" passive to active. In the above, we really do primarily care about the costumes, so should we make the sentence active? Returning to Joe and the dog, how would we make the sentence active while retaining the dog as the subject?

    The dog tolerated a bath from Joe.

    Meh. It's not good, but it is active, and the dog is the subject. The picture in your head - of the dog sitting there being washed - has not changed, but the _verb_ that you're using to describe that picture has changed. The dog is doing the tolerating, so the sentence is now active.

    People often think that descriptive phrases are passive, when they're not, even though they may have a form that's very similar to passive phrases:

    Passive: The food was eaten.
    Active: The food was delicious.
    Passive: The food was cooked by the apprentice.
    Active: The food was hot.
    Passive: John was bullied by his boss.
    Active: John was tired.
    Passive: The house was cleaned.
    Active: The house was clean.
    Passive: The car was driven fast.
    Active: The car was fast.


    Sometimes it's hard to tell if a phrase is descriptive or not:

    Passive: The house was painted by the Girl Scout troop.
    Active: The house was green.
    Ambiguous: The house was painted green.


    The ambiguity reflects the fact that "painted" can be either a verb or an adjective. If the last sentence is intended to communicate that the house has paint on it and the paint is the color green, then painted is an adjective and the sentence is active. If it's intended to communicate the action of applying that green paint to the house, then painted is a verb and the sentence is passive. Without more context, you really can't tell whether this sentence is passive or active.
     
  12. Walshy1595
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    Walshy1595 Member

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    We studied the German form of this in class the other day, but also the English.

    The example our teacher used was this:

    Active: A policeman arrested the burglar.

    Passive: The burglar was arrested by a policeman.

    I'll break down the active sentence: A policeman (subject) arrested (verb) the burglar (direct object).
    Here we have a subject, a verb and a direct object. The subject being the object or person performing the verb (which is pretty self explanatory), and the direct object being the object or person that is being affected by the verb. Does that make sense?

    However, in the passive we have: The burglar (subject) was arrested (verb) by a policeman ("agent").
    Mostly the same as the active sentence, in that the subject and the verb are the same, but we now have what's called an "agent". It's sort of hard to explain, but it's essentially the word by + an object/person. Although, very often in English the specifics of the agent is omitted and we keep it as simple as possible (for some reason).

    e.g My wallet was stolen by someone.

    See what I mean?

    I hope that helped, but judging from what everyone has already said/provided you with, you already knew what I was talking about. But maybe this helped you with the mechanics of the sentence or something.
     
  13. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    This is an interesting thread, but quite frankly I think nobody hit the nail .... Using passive vs active voice has in my opinion to do what the emphasis of the message is. Let's take an example from CF.

    Passive: The garden was weeded [by us] this weekend.
    Active: We weeded the garden this weekend.

    The first puts the emphasis on the garden. The result - a clean garden - is the focus of the message and obviously matters [to the author]. It could as well have been done by a neighbor or a friend.
    The second puts the emphasis on 'we', saying something about our activity in the weekend (the clean garden is a result but not that important; we could have done something entirely different for instance "we watched a movie this weekend").

    So correct use of either depends on what you want to say, on what the core of the message is you want to convey....

    Usually the active form is preferable where you need to propel the story forward. So, when in doubt, choose for the active voice.

    [Cog, great extension re passive voice vs passive verb, btw]

    HTH
     
  14. Nadhir
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    Nadhir New Member

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    Great thread. I've been doing research on passive voice, and this is the best I've seen it explained.

    Since I'm here, is passive voice really as bad as it's made out to be. I've read some articles that speak of it as completely taboo.
     
  15. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    No, it isn't that bad. Just about nothing in writing is that bad. Treating the "rules of writing" as though they're absolute and can never be broken is probably the biggest impediment to learning to write there is. Just use the passive voice with care, and in moderation. It's true that a long sequence of sentences in passive voice doesn't read well, but you should learn to trust your own judgment. Read lots of good writing and find out how the best writers do it. That will steer you towards good writing better than blindly adhering to any set of rules will.
     
  16. Nadhir
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    Nadhir New Member

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    Thanks.
     
  17. David Reynolds
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    David Reynolds New Member

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    Hi all,

    Thanks Crystal for starting a great thread.
    I thought I had wee handle on this but hey do I feel a bit perturbed now.
    I think that some of the advice, as well intentioned as it is, can be overwhelming to any newbies such as my-self.
    However thank you for the inputs it does help with the whole 'tense thing.' A very real weakness for me.
    When I read the more in-depth explanations, it does make sense at the time, but then it does not seem to stick in my head when I'm writing. Is that just me or does anyone else feel like that too?

    Sorry if I'm slipping off topic a bit?

    David
     

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