kitchen table math, the sequel: More fun with passive voice

Friday, May 23, 2014

More fun with passive voice

Katie and I have just finished 5 chapters of exercises for Ed's European history textbook!


A great weight has lifted from our shoulders, soon to be replaced by Great Weight Number 2: finish another 5 chapters before Katie leaves in July.

I've just this moment revised the section on passive voice after our editor cut the line saying all good writers use it. We'll get pushback on that, she says.

(We handled the possibility of pushback by dropping the claim about good writers & doubling down on the assertion that passive voice is essential to cohesion.)

While I was Googling p.v., I found this:
All good writers use the passive voice. Orwell actually uses it while criticizing it: In bad prose, "the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active," he writes. He could have recast that sentence, but his focus was on the (alleged) stylistic sin; that was the logical subject, even if that required a passive verb.

The authors of usage guides shamelessly doctor the evidence on passive by offering examples that range from unlikely to fantastic: Strunk and White's is, "My first visit to Boston will always be remembered by me." But there's more to vividness than active verbs. "Someone killed my parakeet" has an active verb. "My parakeet was hacked to bits with a machete" doesn't.

What we get wrong about passive voice by Jan Freeman
And, my favorites (which I'm sure I've posted before):

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