Monthly Archives: February 2012

Passive and non-aggressive voice

Passive and non-aggressive voice

In writing, sentences are considered to be of “active” or “passive” construction (“voice”) depending on where the emphasis is placed. If the emphasis is placed on the subject, the sentence is considered active, but if emphasis is placed on the object of the action, the sentence is passive.

Wikipedia’s passive voice definition states, “The passive voice is a grammatical construction (a ‘voice’) in which the subject of a sentence or clause denotes the recipient of the action (the patient) rather than the performer (the agent).

[Infographic provided by]

Examples of Passive Voice
The chicken was eaten by the fox.
My sister was attacked by wild penguins.

Examples of Active Voice
The fox ate the chicken.
Wild penguins attacked my sister.

Writers generally avoid the passive because it does not have the “punch” of the active voice. “The fox ate” and “wild penguins attacked” create a more powerful statement. In addition to the watered down feeling, passive construction can also distance the author or hide things, as in the statement, “mistakes were made”.

In some cases, the passive may be used intentionally to call attention to the object. “Seventy men were needed to construct the pavilion.” This statement uses the passive to call attention to the large number of men necessary to accomplish the task.

Constructing a Passive Sentence
The auxiliary verb is frequently a form of “to be“, and the main verb must always be in past participle form.

subject + auxiliary verb (to be) + main verb (past participle)

Past tense: The player was tripped.
The reporter writing about the game may not know who tripped the player.

Present tense: The game is being played.
The reporter might not know which teams are playing or where.

Future tense: The game’s MVP will be announced in the 4th quarter.
The reporter knows an MVP will be chosen but does not know who it will be.

The Passive Voice in Action
In argumentative writing, where the author is attempting to convince an audience or get a point across, the number of passive sentences should be as low as possible, with 0% as ideal. The active voice feels more to the point, and the author seems to be taking more responsibility in what he is writing.

In average, daily writing, it is suggested that not more than 10% of writing should be in the passive. Some camps say that up to 20% is acceptable, but most writers agree that average writing with even 15% passive sentences sounds watered down.

Technical and scientific writing differs from other styles in that the passive is useful and used liberally; some writers in various fields prefer the passive, stating that it has a more “objective” feel. Examples of passive voice along a scientific vein might be, “Water is composed of two elements”, or “The degree of combustion can be measured and analyzed with test equipment”. In the first example, two elements compose water, but water is the main focus of the sentence. The second sentence is similar–test equipment measures combustion, but combustion is of greater interest.

Think of a few popular sayings and determine if they are passive or active, and then change them to the opposite voice. Is there a shift in the overall feeling of the statement when the emphasis is moved?

Funny Ads.

Funny Ads.

Amana washer $100.  Owned by clean bachelor who seldom washed

Lawyer says client is not that guilty

Ground Beast: 99 cents lb.

Joining nudist colony! Must sell washer and dryer $300

Exercise equipment: queen size mattress and box springs – $175

Our sofa seats the whole mob and it’s mad of 100% Italian leather


Did you know … ?

Did you know … ?

British Slang

Bugger: Reasonably mild curse. “Buggery” is another word for anal sex; the verb “bugger” is often used in places Americans would say “fuck” or “screw”: “Bugger that, I’m out of here!”. “Bugger that for a game of soldiers”, “Bugger off!”, etc.

Howdo; Mostly Northern or above a certain age, an informal greeting or term of recognition. Although a truncated version of “How do you do?”, it is used more like the term “‘Sup” in that it neither requires nor expects a response explaining how the recipient is.

I say! (Or the full version, “I say, old chap, that’s just not cricket”.): “I say” might be an exclamation of surprise or agreement. Generally restricted to posh/old fashioned accents. “That’s not cricket” means something

Jolly good, or “jolly good show”, often said in an Upper Class Twit voice.
Karzi/Khazi: Toilet (Indian imported word). Alternatively, 19th century Cockney origin. Beginning to be more associated with Australia.

“Cheers luv” when a woman is the server of a drink.

 Mate: Friend, informal. Can be used generically — the rough equivalent of ‘pal’ or ‘buddy’ — or specifically, ie. ‘my best mate’.


Did you know … ?

Did you know … ?

British slang

Cheerio: Goodbye. Somewhat archaic these days, mostly used by posh folk.

Chips/Crisps: Our words for fries and potato chips, respectively. If you’re an American and you ask for chips in a grocery store, you’ll be directed to the frozen aisle. Hilarity Ensues for the shop assistant.

Cor, blimey!: Exclamation of surprise; from ‘God blind me’
(Old) Cobblers: Nonsense/Bullshit, particularly if spoken. “That’s a load of old cobblers, that is!”
Has been explained as Cockney rhyming slang ‘cobbler’s awls’=’balls’, with ‘balls’ meaning ‘nonsense’ or ‘I state you are incorrect/speaking nonsense’.

Crikey! (Thanks to the late, lamented Steve Irwin, this is less British and more Australian.) ‘Crickey riley’ is also said, though possibly only amongst the working class.

Chavs are youth (usually) who generally causes discomfort amongst the middle class. Stereotypically clad in a hooded sweatshirt and Abercrombie tracksuit (benefits permitting) and clutching a can of cheap lager. Not usually a threat to the public, but is seen as such due to a large amount of robbery undertaken in the early 2000s by people in such clothing. The term Chav, according to some (disputed) sources is an acronym for ‘Council Housed And Violent’, but has been expanded to include anyone of working class and little use to the nation, probably from London. YMMV – the precise meaning of the phrase is the source of much debate and changes much with background, region, etc.

Chocks away! : “Here we go!”; dates back to the early days of aviation when an aircraft was prevented from rolling forwards while its engine was running by “chocks” (wedges of wood) under the wheels, to be pulled away by ropes before takeoff. Only used in a joking sense in modern times.