Long ago, writing authorities decided that passive voice was “weaker” than active voice, and therefore, discouraged. However, no one has ever proclaimed passive voice to be grammatically incorrect. This leads to some head-butting with editors from time to time.
Editors, of course, follow the various rules of their own publications, as well as the established rules of the English language and grammar usage. Their job is to ensure that the various writing styles and voices of writers are accommodated* while still preserving the integrity and readability of the publication. In pursuit of this mission, editors almost always demand that passive voice be eliminated.
*’are accomidated’ is passive. Note, that it is not WRONG, jut passive. To make it active, you need to switch the sentence around and use the main active verb ‘accommodate.’
There are certain topics that make it hard to eliminate passive voice. More specifically, there are certain sentences that make eliminating passive voice difficult. When talking about something that someone may choose, or not choose to do, or allow in the future, passive voice is hard to get away from without making the sentence awkward. I notice this most when writing about taxes.
Tax rules and regulations often offer taxpayers a choice. A sentence must, therefore, make it clear that there is a choice. Using the word may, or can, is a good way to show that there is a choice. Next, most tax advice or tips involves what the taxpayer will do in the future. Add it up and you end with passive phrasing.
“A taxpayer is allowed to take a deduction.”
That sentence is passive, is allowed.
Fixing it requires a different subject, or verb.
“Tax code allows the taxpayer a deduction.”
“A taxpayer may take a deduction.”
While I understand the concept of avoiding passive voice, it is still my contention that the first sentence conveys the information most accurately in terms of tenor, sound, or feel, even if the others are grammatically the same information.
If you were wondering, yes, I am writing something and the passive is bugging me 🙂
And, though I promised myself I wouldn’t, I have neglected this poor blog again.
It’s time to set up a new writing calendar. When I had just four site and a half-dozen clients, just keeping it all in my head worked fine. These days, there is just too much to keep up with.
I’ll be back.
Each year I see row after row of parked cars with parking tickets sticking out of the doors when street sweeping season starts.
Each year I think there might be a story there.
Each year I don’t come up with anything.
Each year I remember that last year I didn’t think of anything either.
This year, I wax philosophically about it at my personal Brian Nelson blog.
Maybe I won’t think about it so much next year.
Maybe I should get a picture…
I’m pretty much infinity plus one hours behind today, so we’ll have to keep this one kind of short. However, I amused myself while writing today at a couple of little idiosyncrasies in language that tripped me up, not because they are complicated or one of those very confusing English grammar rules, but because that they don’t necessarily come up in the proper writing context.
Before we go too far, we’ll start with a gratuitous reference to one of my article published elsewhere about Citibank ThankYou rewards. Now, moving on…
Unlike most people, I am a professional writer. That means that every day, my writing gets graded, just like when you were back in high school. My grader is not a school teacher trying to ensure that my writing is correct enough to get a passing grade on the state’s standardized writing text, but rather an editor who
a) knows just as much about correct English grammar and punctuation as any writer,
b) may very well have an advanced degree in either English or Writing,
c) probably could teach most high school English teachers a thing or two about grammar
Oh, yeah and:
d) decides whether or not the grammar I use in the writing I turn into him or her is good enough to accept my work and pay me, or that it needs to be edited and corrected before it is good enough to accept and pay me.
In other words, grammar matters to me. A lot.
That means that not only have I learned a lot about writing and grammar over the years, but I keep learning new rules and guidelines because there always seems to be another way to write something that does not fall among the rules and standards that I already know.
Long story, short – I do my best to not correct other people’s grammar no matter how terrible and I struggle each day to hit Cancel or Delete before pointing out that “your” means something that belongs to you, while “you’re” means you are.
That being said, today, I found myself on the, “Hey, wait a minute, is that right?” end of my own writing.
First came spell-check’s red squiggly underline beneath the word “triaging.” Fair enough. I’ve never looked it up. Maybe the ‘e’ is supposed to be left on the end of the word before adding the ‘ing.’ It’s unusual, but not unprecedented.
However, that spelling, “triageing” came up with a red squiggly underline as well.
That sent me to Dictionary.com which has the word triage, but nothing about making it an active verb.
From there I went to Merriam Webster’s website who had nothing for me.
And, finally, to the actual, printed, hardcover dictionary in my bookcase. It too has no record of any such word.
For well over a year now, I have been telling people, often in writing, that I was “triaging my email,” which is my way of saying desperately trying to find, and take action on, all of the important emails while sorting the remaining email into their relative levels of importance ranging from important, but not urgent, all the way down to they’ll-get-over-it, and lastly, spam.
It seems that I have been making up a word.
That’s fine for rappers and high-school girls (“Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen.”) but not so great for writers. Although, you can have “jackassery” when you pry it from my cold dead hands. I don’t care what Merriam, Webster, or Mrs. Jones in 4th period English say.
The Bane of My Existence
Next up, was the spell checker overload when I finished a lengthy tirade in which I, somewhat comically, continuously re-used the word, “bane.” Unfortunately, I did not use the word, “bane” at all, but rather, “bain.” Oops.
No harm, no foul, here as it wasn’t something to be professionally submitted, but it brought a smile to may face anyway, particularly because about one-half of my friends couldn’t use the word in a sentence let alone be familiar enough with it to judge the mistaken spelling.
Be that as it may, we march on. Brian Nelson is out…