kitchen table math, the sequel: the passive voice files

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

the passive voice files

Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey Pullum on the passive voice:
In truth, the passive is very often exactly the right way to frame a clause in a particular context, and all competent authors use passives frequently. The people who recommend against it use it themselves, even while talking about how you should not use it. For example, in the act of explaining that you should "Use the active voice" because it is "more direct and vigorous than the passive", William Strunk and E. B. White assert that "Many a tame sentence . . . can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice" (see section 14 of their book The Elements of Style). Their sentence defies their warning; it contains an instance of the passive voice itself (can be made lively and emphatic).


Michael Weiss said...

Strunk & White are pretty useless when it comes to passive voice:

For me to report that I paid my bill by saying "The bill was paid by me," with no stress on "me," would sound inane. (I'm the utterer, and the utterer always counts as familiar and well established in the discourse.) But that is no argument against passives generally. "The bill was paid by an anonymous benefactor" sounds perfectly natural. Strunk and White are denigrating the passive by presenting an invented example of it deliberately designed to sound inept.... The book's toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity is not underpinned by a proper grounding in English grammar. It is often so misguided that the authors appear not to notice their own egregious flouting of its own rules. They can't help it, because they don't know how to identify what they condemn.

Source: 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.

Michael Weiss said...

... Which I just noticed is by one of the authors that Catherine quoted in her own post, so, never mind.