Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Blog Was Written By Me


Ken wrote that he is constantly annoyed by his computer’s grammar checker because it scolds him every time that he uses the passive voice in a verb. What’s the big deal, he asks.

The active voice of a verb shows that the subject is doing something: Carrie swats flies. The action moves from left to right in the sentence, a standard occurrence in English. An active voice verb is preferred because it is direct, vigorous, and less wordy.

In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon: The flies were swatted by Carrie. The action bounces from right to left, as it were, and the construction seems murky, evasive, and clunky. Politicians love the passive voice because it allows the weasels to direct attention away from themselves: Mistakes were made is less accusatory and damning than I goofed up.

Compare these examples to see why the active voice is usually better:

  • (A) My dog loves rawhide. (P) Rawhide is loved by my dog.
  • (A) Cars need gasoline. (P) Gasoline is needed by cars.
  • (A) I hate spinach. (P) Spinach is hated by me.

However, the passive voice is not always inferior. Sometimes we need to emphasize the object instead of the subject, and sometimes we don’t even know who the subject is.

  • The synagogue has been vandalized three times this year.
  • In the last few years, smart phones have been purchased at a phenomenal rate.
  • My new bicycle was stolen yesterday.

We could use the vague someone as subject in two of the sentences above, but that wears thin after a while. As for your grammar checker, Ken, I’d turn it off. I keep my spell checker on to catch typos, but even that isn’t perfectly programmed.


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