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Get Your Grammar Fix(ed): Will the Real Passive Voice Please Stand Up?

Never write in the passive voice.

That little gem could be great advice. It could help you light a fire under your writing!

If you know what passive voice really is.

First, please allow me to explain what passive voice is NOT.

Many folks understand it to mean dull writing. You know, the kind of writing where everyone and everything just exist. So full of "to be" verbs that nothing is happening.

They were tired. 
He is flummoxed.
She was downtrodden. 

Bleh.

"Well, it's passive voice if you toss an "-ing" verb in there, isn't it?"

No, friends. It's not. It's just the progressive form of the verb. It's continuous action in whatever tense you chose.

They were trudging.
He is trying to solve the problem.
She was hanging her head.

Still...bleh.

Dull writing can be remedied by zapping spunk into your verbs. Show some moxie and write sentences that paint a picture. Create a vivid scene!

All four of them, backs bent low, shoulders curved, toes dragging tracks in the dirt, trudged into town. Had they been in a fight? Scabbed and dirty, not a single man made eye contact with the bystanders. Until she spoke.

Stymied, he erased the equation and scrawled in some new figures. The clock ticked. Anxiety made his spine buzz and his scalp itch. Shoving a hand into his hair, he chewed the inside of his cheek and tapped his pencil against the desk.

Her cheeks burned. His words sapped her strength and drained her of any desire to fight back. No way she could win a fight with him--not when cheating was as easy for him as breathing.

Showing versus telling is the game we're playing here. It has nothing to do with passive voice.

So what is passive voice? (I'm down to twenty seconds! Ack!)

Every verb has four attributes: person, number, voice, and mood. 

Voice can be either active or passive.

Active voice: the subject does the verbing.
Passive voice: the subject is verbed by some other noun.

Active: I struck the match.

Passive: The match was struck by me.


So, are there times when passive voice is necessary? Even useful?

Sure. Go back to the downtrodden girl. She's been victimized. There might be a scene where you want that theme to resonate. The text might read:

She'd been lied to by all of them. She was used up and broken. And now here she was, abandoned.

Of course, verbs in the passive voice do not cause people to cheer.

(They might even cause people to look for a bookmark.) Wield them wisely. Limit them.

True passive voice has its place, but it still tends to be dull.

Let me be honest. It was hard for me to type those sentences in the passive voice. I desperately wanted to revise it:

Every one of them had lied. They'd used her and left her broken and abandoned.

Do you see the difference?

Strike the match.

Be compelling. Show the actions being done by the subjects. And show the results.

Time's up. Do you understand the difference between passive voice and dull writing? Think you can avoid them both and drive your story forward? In the comments section, try to write a sentence in both the active and the passive voice.

Have fun!


Thanks for the images Artur84 and Idea Go at www.freedigitalphotos.net