?

Does it sound better passive or active?

  1. Passive

    1 vote(s)
    50.0%
  2. Active

    1 vote(s)
    50.0%
  1. labelab

    labelab Active Member

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    Can passive verbs sound better than active?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by labelab, Oct 9, 2019.

    I've found that I occasionally use passive voice to achieve a certain voice, but there's always a little voice in my brain telling me not to use it. What is it with this taboo around passive verbs? Are they really that bad?

    Here's an extract from my article about hot chocolate. You tell me if it sounds better passive or active, because I genuinely want to know.

    "It's through a combination of dark chocolate, milk and cornstarch that a roll-your-eyes-back flavour and texture is achieved."
    "A roll-your-eyes-back flavour and texture is achieved through a combination of dark chocolate, milk and cornstarch."
     
  2. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    the second one sounds better but i don't think its a matter of passive vs active - its just that it is more simply stated
     
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  3. labelab

    labelab Active Member

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    I see... maybe this so called "style" obstructs the message a little.
     
  4. Storysmith

    Storysmith Senior Member

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    Aren't they both passive? I'd have expected an active to be something like:

    A combination of dark chocolate, milk and cornstarch achieves a roll-your-eyes-back flavour and texture.
     
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  5. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    that

    that said people get very hung up about passive vs active and its virtually never time well spent
     
  6. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    I loathe passive voice discourse because 1) many people seem to genuinely have no clue what the passive voice is and 2) readers, by and large, don't care.
    It's the epitome of writing advice that's bandied about because it's surface level and (seemingly) easily actionable, which makes newer writers feel as though it must be super important. It doesn't require any effort on the part of the giver and therefore is mostly useless.

    Most everything you write should be active voice, but only because that's how English is actually spoken. That seems self evident
     
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  7. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    Chocolate is not orgasmic/nor does it provoke a seizure. Would that be hyperbole? [checks...] yep, yep, good start to the day.
     
  8. labelab

    labelab Active Member

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    Ahh, right! And that does sound quite good.
     
  9. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    As a rule go for the active. In the example given the passive sounds better to me.

    ... mmm ... there’s bird on my bookshelf? As in a live bird. Better go ...
     
  10. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    It’s gone now. Flew out the window. Quite an erudite fellow I reckon, as he was perched on Wittgenstein’s ‘Logical Investigations’. Guess it wishes it was a wise old owl! :D
     
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  11. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Both sentences are passive, "is achieved," verb "to be" plus the past participle "achieved".

    Passive voice is almost verboten in technical writing because it cloaks responsibility "The radio must be tuned to the correct frequency" By whom? The operator, a technician or an engineer? "The operator must tune the radio to the correct frequency" solves that problem.

    In literature however, the passive voice can be used when the person responsible is unknown, and the writer wants to emphasize that: "A shot was fired from behind the rocks." By whom? Unknown, we will find out - maybe - in the next few sentences. However if the agent responsible is known, use active voice for clarity "The raiders fired a shot from behind the rocks," rather than "A shot was fired ... by the raiders." In general, minimize passive voice unless you consciously choose to use it. If you need to identify the agent with "by the [agent]" don't use it, unless you have a very good reason for doing so.
     
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  12. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    Your second line is passive, but the first is static. The subject is "It" and the verb is "is" inside of "It's." Being verbs by themselves are never active/passive. They express a state of being. No action moves through them. There's a dependent clause in that first line that's passive though, so maybe that's what people are looking at. Every clause has a chance to be active/passive/static. It's possible to build a sentence that is active/passive/static in parts while the sentence itself has a different voice.

    The standard practice is to remove passives where active phrases work better. (re: George Orwell's advice on writing.) On average, it's good advice, but it never really explains itself, and really, it's the reasoning that's important. Active/passive voice is a subset of cause/effect. Active shows the cause before the effect. Passive shows the effect before the cause. Logically, the reader wants cause before effect (active), because that's how we think, and that should be the baseline (hence, active is preferred over passive), but there are times you should reverse the order and you don't even need to determine what's active/passive to do that.

    In a longer sentence, the ending has emphasis. Whatever comes last is most important. If you want to stress the ingredients, put them last. If you want to stress the effect of "flavor," then give it that spot. I think that's really what you were asking: should you use cause/effect or effect/cause?

    There's also issues with sentence cohesion. Pushing certain elements to the end of the sentence will stick it tight to the next sentence. Like these two insipid lines:

    My black cat is hungry. It's my favorite color.
    My hungry cat is black. It's my favorite color.
    In a paragraph, there's the always important concept of 'coherence and cohesion.' Coherence looks at whether the sentences have a common, logical subject; cohesion looks at whether the sentences are disjoint (and has a lot to do with sentence flow). Though both of the lines above say the same thing, the second line has cohesion, and that's just based on "black" coming last. Cohesion is like the magnetic attraction between sentences. You often flip between active/passive voice to build cohesion. Here's a passive put in place for cohesion:

    Of course the home run was hit by Casey. He never strikes out.​

    The active would work there too, but not be as tight. That's not to say the active is wrong though. If I flipped the first sentence to active voice, the emphasis would change to effect (the home run, which might be better, depending on the paragraph) but I would soften the cohesion. You have to decide what's more important. Writing's tricky because there's no true solution but there are plenty of wrong answers.

    So passives are extremely useful. Their danger is when they invert your lines for no good reason. That builds a strange repetition that emphasizes a misaligned structure. Too much effect/cause and you'll sound like Yoda.
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2019
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  13. InsaneXade

    InsaneXade Member

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    too much passive voice ruins the flavor of the prose. Sit down and write an entire five to six sentence paragraph in the passive voice then in the active voice and you will see what I mean.
    I agree they are both passive, just worded differently.

    It's the "is achieved" that does it. Any form of "to be" is a red flag for passive voice was/were/is/are. However, to be "is" such a tricky and irregular verb that its not always a passive voice flag.
    The computer is being stupid.​
    In this form it is a linking verb. It links the subject to an action The computer (Subject) being stupid (Action)
    It's easy to remove the is and make it punchier
    Stupid computer won't work right.​

    Here is an except of a grammerly blog
    Here is a lovely article talking about the presnt and past forms of to be
    This is an article about Active Voice vs Passive Voice.

    Anyhow, that should be enough to get you started :)
     
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  14. Mary Elise

    Mary Elise Senior Member

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    In business and technical writing I aim for a seventh grade reading level. For user manuals, I shoot for fifth grade and clarity is everything. I make every effort to ensure my readers can not get confused.

    In a Response to a Request for Proposal (RRFP) I use a little more literary style. We're trying to get new business so while clarity is critical, persuasion is more important.

    In my personal work I let the Word Fairy out of her cage and go for it. I end up changing a lot of passive sentences but not all because that's how I think and speak.
     
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  15. BillyxRansom

    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    *ahem* regarding your first example, sir or madam, i strongly beg to differ.
     

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