Tag Archives: English grammar

Authors Answer 133 – The Passive Voice

The passive voice is something authors are often told not to use. But what exactly is the passive voice? Here’s a simple example.

Passive voice: The door was opened by John.

Active voice: John opened the door.

When you look at the two sentences, the active voice seems more dynamic. There’s actual movement. The passive voice is talking more about the door rather than John. In active, someone does something. For passive, something is done to something by someone or something. But is it something we should avoid using? Obviously, it shouldn’t be used when action is the focus of a scene. This week, we talk about the passive voice.

Question 133 – Do you find it difficult not to use passive voice? What advice would you give to writers who have this difficulty?

Elizabeth Rhodes

I do slip into it sometimes for reasons I can’t explain. I suppose for advice, I’d tell an author to write each sentence so that the action feels right in your face, as opposed to a distant event to witness. A tree was growing on the hill? Meh. A tree grew on the hill? Better.

H. Anthe Davis

Passive voice isn’t a 100% no-no; it has its uses here and there, mostly in formal conversation/dialogue.  I think the best way to handle it is just to study it, learn to recognize it in your writing, consider other options — and don’t press too hard if the passive way seems the only/best way to say what you want.  The English language is flexible.

Jean Davis

Over the years I’ve been trying hard to stomp out passive voice. I wouldn’t say it’s difficult not to use, but it can slip back in if you’re not watching for it. Always try to keep action and description in the present, making the character do things rather than things happening to or around them.

Paul B. Spence

Passive voice is sometimes needed. My advice is to try to not overuse it. All writers use it. Learn the true definition first, then worry if you do it too much. Sorry, the passive voice thing drives me nuts.

Eric Wood

I don’t really think about passive and active voices. Or at least not until I got this question. Now I will. I think I use an active voice. In my writing, I want to make the main character the focus of my sentences so I try to place them in the position of honor – as the subject of the sentence. For writers who have this difficulty I would tell them what I tell myself. As your story has a main character, so, too, do your sentences so keep your focus on keeping them the subject.

D. T. Nova

I don’t think I have a tendency to use it in situations where it should be avoided.

Gregory S. Close

When writing, using the passive voice is not a problem for me…

Crap!

Writing in the passive voice is less a problem than identifying later that you’ve written in the passive voice.  Sometimes, passive fits the need of the sentence.  Knowing when it doesn’t and editing it the heck out of there is the real trick.  Rules should never hinder writing.  Rules should polish it.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I do find it difficult not to use passive voice, and am often accused of “telling” instead of “showing”. The best advice I can give for writers with this problem is simply to have good beta-readers. A good beta-reader will notice such things and be able to point them out so that you can correct them and (hopefully) be more likely to notice them in the future.

C E Aylett

I use passive voice but I don’t overuse it. I don’t believe it should be avoided, if it is what’s required at the time. Passive voice has its place in many instances and to create certain effects. Of course, it’s always worth questioning where you have used it so you can double check it makes more sense in passive rather than turning it into a more active sentence Coincidentally, I am currently composing a whole article on the subject of when it’s better to use passive voice  for my own blog (www.thestorysmith.com), which I plan to post Sunday 19th May.

Beth Aman

Sometimes!  I used to struggle with this a lot more, and then someone on Critique Circle pointed it to me, and I suddenly understood what I was doing wrong!  Advice to writers who need to work on this: do some research, get your work critiqued, and learn from there.

Jay Dee Archer

In the beginning, I found it difficult to avoid the passive. After teaching English for 11 years, I’ve become extremely conscious of the grammar I use while writing. I don’t have much of a problem with it anymore. But that doesn’t mean using the passive is bad. There are cases when it may be the only type of sentence that makes sense.

But to avoid the passive, you first need to recognise the passive for what it is. Once you do, you’ll notice it a lot more in your writing. While you’re writing, try to think about what the character is doing. If you write through the eyes of the character, even if it is third person, you’ll write in a more active way. Focus on the character’s movements, thoughts, and their senses. This should help a lot.

How about you?

Do you have problems using the passive voice when you should be using the active? What advice would you give? Let us know in the comments section below.

Authors Answer 131 – Grammatically Difficult

English is not an easy language. It’s said to be one of the more difficult languages because of inconsistent spelling/pronunciation rules, irregular verbs, articles, and so on. But do authors find English grammar difficult? Let’s find out!

Question 131 – Which rule(s) of English grammar do you find most difficult?

H. Anthe Davis

I had a rather substandard English grammar education — I never diagrammed sentences and I didn’t know what a gerund was until I learned about it in Spanish class.  I think it was because I went to a weird little private middle school…  But anyway, since I never got rigid training in English grammar, I really just do whatever I want, and damn the rules.  Sure, I tried reading Strunk & White and other such writing advisories back when I was still honing my craft and uncertain of my voice, but adhering to strictures just got in the way for me.  I’m much happier not caring.

Jean Davis

For the life of me, I always seem to get lay and lie wrong. I blame my elementary teachers for not thoroughly drilling that into our young brains.

Paul B. Spence

English was not the first language I learned, and so I sometimes have some trouble with word order. As a follower of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, I am a living example of how language shapes the brain. My first language was ASL (American Sign Language) and so I think kinetically.

Eric Wood

Pretty much all of them. I need to make a conscious effort to make sure my tenses agree. I often have to look up which affect/effect I should use. And if it weren’t for spell check I’d never know what was spelled write or wrong. (see what I did there?)

D. T. Nova

Subjunctive mood. The rules for it basically amount to breaking more common rules in nonsensical ways, and what’s technically “correct” invariably looks wrong.

Gregory S. Close

It’s probably better to ask this question of my editor.  I don’t have any problems with rules of English grammar.  I write what feels correct at the time and then adjust later in editing if needed, based on feedback from my editor.  He picks up on things and makes recommendations, sometimes stronger than others, based on “the rules.”  But as a fiction writer, the story is ultimately more important to me.  I want to stay within the rules so that I don’t confuse the reader, and so that my language is clear and descriptive, not out of awareness of the rules in advance.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I don’t know if there’s necessarily any specific grammar rules that I find difficult, but in general I find that I have a difficult time separating my everyday voice and my literary voice. That is to say, I come from a place where we have a lot slang and a very, shall we say…improper dialect. We do things like pluralize things that make no sense being pluralized (“I likes my coffee”) and purposely mispronounce words for no particular reason (“She’s my cousint” instead of “cousin”). While a lot of those little bits of local flavor are easy to dissect and remove from my vocabulary when I’m writing, some things tend to sneak in and are only noticed when my beta readers (who aren’t necessarily from around here) contact me to ask what on Earth a certain word or line is supposed to mean.

Jay Dee Archer

I was an English teacher for eleven years up until about a year ago. English grammar was my life. I taught it. I thought about it. I read about it. I had to know everything. What I thought I had difficulty with was conditionals, especially explaining them. But I found that I enjoyed them. I enjoyed teaching passive versus active. I was also always good at spelling, but there was one word that always gave me trouble no matter how many times I reminded myself of the spelling, and that’s embarass. Or is that embarrass? I’m so embarrassed!

How about you?

Is there an aspect of English grammar that you find difficult? Let us know in the comments section below.

The Teaching Urge – English Lesson Videos

As you probably know, I taught English for eleven years in Japan. It still feels strange that I’m not doing it anymore. I spent more than a quarter of my life doing it. But I have that urge to do something, and I want to make sure I don’t forget grammar rules. I’ve been thinking about what to do, and then it came to me a couple weeks ago: easy one-point lesson videos!

There are English lesson videos on YouTube, of course. But I’m planning on doing something that I haven’t seen (although may exist). I’m going to be doing simple lessons that tackle common problems that people have with English. But the thing is, this won’t only be for English learners, it’ll also be for those who are fluent in English. You see, this is where the writing and editing part comes in. There are many problems that English speakers have with their own language, especially in writing.

This is where you come in. A lot of you are readers and writers. What are some English grammar problems you have? Let me know in the comments below. Your idea will likely become a lesson video!