I’m writing about this with the aid of Glencoe/McGraw-Hill’s Writer’s Choice Grammar and Composition. Texas Edition. Well, okay. As a native Texan who’s never lived in any other state (any other town, for that matter), I feel we deserve our very own creative writing textbook version.
All this flap about passive voice drives me a little crazy. What is this accursed editorial thing? “The form of a verb used when the subject of the sentence receives the action of the verb.”
Someday I’m going to have to read this whole book. I borrowed it from the son of an English teacher at my high school. And, buster, it’s been a long time since 1976. For now I just skipped in the contents to the section on verbs, since this is where the conflict lies. Active voice is where the “subject of the sentence performs the action.” See? I had to read it four times and decided to just quote directly from the text. Easier that way.
“The coach praised the team.” Active enough for ya?
And when the action is performed on the subject “The team was praised by the coach.”, that’s passive.
Oh, crap. The first example is smoother and more concise, isn’t it? And concision will get thrown for a loop, invariably, when you use the auxiliary verb be with the past participle of the verb, its tense being determined by the auxiliary verb.
Huh? Allow me to demonstrate by forming my sentence with the help of Glencoe. “The writer was confused as hell.” See? Past tense of be is was, which means I had to use the past tense of confuse, confused. I just managed to passive voice myself four times right there. Way to go! But is (dammit!) there another way to phrase that sentence?
The writer’s confusion abated. The writer’s confusion cleared.
The Writing Center (https://writingcenter.unc.edu>passive voice) says: The form of “to be” (is, are, am, was, were, has, has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a verb in the past participle which usually, but not always, ends in -ed” will be passive voice. The part that gets me is the “not always.” Isn’t there always a not always?
Ha! So I didn’t use was even though my verb ended with -ed. But was I active? Beats hell out of me. I Googled that whole sentence, asking if it was passive voice just to see if I’d get a hit. No way.
Billy hit the ball. Active.
The ball was hit by Billy. Passive.
The ball (object) is the recipient of the action (hit) by the noun (Billy).
“I was hit by the ball.” Passive.
“The ball hit me.” Active.
The Writing Center says it’s not all that difficult to identify passive voice. They included a few myths on the subject. One, that your grammar checker will catch it for you. Wrong. Passive voice isn’t grammatically incorrect so your grammar checker will let it breeze right on by and your editor will glove that fly ball. Yer out!
Passive voice never uses first person. Look above. “I was hit by the ball.”
Never use it? There are times when passive voice might be preferable. “He had barely gotten by on social security.” We can’t say “He barely got by on social security” if my subject here is dead. Can we???? That would be present tense, wouldn’t it???
I guess in that case it would be okay. Jeez. I really have to read this book.
(Was that passive voice?)
Rephrase: I must read this book. You can’t get more active than that.