Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Nowhere Kids, Jun 23, 2006.
What is passive voice? why is it bad?
With the passive voice the action is done on the subject (the subject comes first).
So for example:
Passive Voice: The house was burned down by the arsonist.
Active Voice: The arsonist burned down the house.
I think webdev has got it.
Agreed - an elegant example.
The passive voice seems to me to be deliberately objective, disinterested (not un-interested) a bit like the sort of writing one expects in reportage as opposed to op-ed. The active voice is much more interesting to read, it's engaging. So I suppose from that the active voice is very important in fiction and perhaps too intrusive in reportage.
Indeed. Just to expand, the passive voice generally is more wordy than the active as it uses the preposition 'by' and often requires an auxiliary verb such as 'was,' in Webdev's example. To be technical, direct subjects are used in active sentences, whereas the subject is not direct in passive sentences. Passive sentences require transitive verbs.
(The emphasis is mine.) I don't agree. The active voice emphasizes the person or thing doing the acting. The passive voice emphasizes the person or thing being acted on. Both have their uses in "reporting". If I'm writing a piece on JFK then I would say "JFK was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald" (passive voice). If I'm writing a piece on Oswald, though, I'd say "Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK" (active voice). It's not a case of intrusive or not, it's a case of focusing on the subject of the piece.
Beginning writers tends to view the passive voice as the safer option, for some reason, as if the reader will be more likely to believe them. Passive voice is the voice that sits in the corner of the coffee shop reading the ingredients on his mug, quietly contemplating suicide, but never being brave enough to do it.
Active has the subject doing, passive has the subject in a vegative state. Passive voice has its moments, of course, when the focus needs to be somewhere else, but should be avoided. Passive is mundane, is boring, is tedious in both creative writing and other forms - in most cases.
"JFK was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald" (passive voice). If I'm writing a piece on Oswald, though, I'd say "Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK" (active voice). It's not a case of intrusive or not, it's a case of focusing on the subject of the piece.
If my story was on parents hitting children (an easy example), the passive or active voice could be the better option.
'Parent strikes naughty child'
'Naughty child is struck by parent'
Before I begin, I'm aware the examples suck. You could argue that both put the blame on the child, because both describe the child as naughty. But the passive example states the child is naughty before the reader knows the child has been struck, whereas the first has the parent strike before the reader knows the child is naughty. The difference is subtle, and perhaps not the best of examples, but each sentence has a different viewpoint, IMO, and a different use.
Don't underestimate the utility of the passive sentence, but don't overuse it.
Passive isn't always bad; sometimes the reader needs a break from the action, though I never give them a long one. Active is usually a better choice for fiction because it engages the reader more. Active pulls them into the scene, passive makes them an observer.
Paul was kicking the dog.
Paul kicked the dog.
Which one makes you mad?
Tense lapse. That's what makes me mad.
Aren't both past tense?
Paul is kicking...
Paul was kicking...
If I'm wrong, please enlighten, Mike
One is past progressive, one is past simple.
Passive voice is exactly what it says on the tin, a sentence in which the subject is excluded or only added on the end.
An example I like is the following:
Boy found safe in NewYork.
Boy found safe in NewYork by police.
Totally different meanings and grammar, yet oh so similar...
Separate names with a comma.