Writes of Passage – Passive Voice

What is passive voice? How can you tell if you’re writing in passive voice and how can you avoid it?

Passive voice is a grammatical construction in which the noun of the sentence is the subject rather than the object. It is the opposite of active voice, which is more widely preferred.

How can you tell if you’re writing in passive voice or in active voice? I came across an amusing trick on Facebook which easily helps to identify if you’re writing in passive voice. You can read the article here. It isn’t a very long one, but if you still don’t feel like reading, the gist is this: if you can add ‘by zombies’ following the verb in a sentence, you’ve got passive voice. Here’s an example:

Passive: John was eaten by zombies.

Active: Zombies ate John.

Notice the difference? In the passive example, John is the object and the zombies are the subject(s), when it should be the other way around. In sentence structure, objects do and subjects are done upon. In the active example, the zombies are rightfully the object(s) and John is rightfully the subject. Since John is being eaten, he’s the subject, but when written in passive voice, that almost becomes unclear. This is why passive voice is frowned upon.

That last sentence was written in passive voice; I didn’t identify who frowns upon the use of passive voice (proofreaders, class instructors, etc.), and that can lead to confusion. However, if the person or thing responsible for the action in a sentence is unknown, then passive voice is perfectly acceptable. If the actor is known, but irrelevant, then passive voice is acceptable, as well. The University of Toronto’s website offers some excellent advice as to when to use and avoid passive voice.

Once you become aware of the difference between active and passive voice, and get the hang of it, the rest should follow. It will then become second nature, and if it doesn’t, or you’re struggling with it, make sure to consult the undead to see where you stand! 🙂

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Favorite Words

Having been a recipient of dictionary.com’s Word of the Day for months, I discover new words on the reg (abbrev. form of ‘on the regular;’ i.e., regularly). I’ve started to tally them in my Notes app to keep track of those that particularly resonate with me.

Here are some that I look forward to using in my writing.

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What are some of your favorite words and why? 🙂

i.e. v. e.g.

The terms i.e. and e.g. have baffling tendencies. They used to confuse me as well, until I took it upon myself to look up the difference between them. For starters, they are not interchangeable. But quite often people make the mistake of thinking they are. However, they are very easily distinguishable.


 

i.e.

i.e. is an abbreviation of a Latin phrase meaning id est, which translates literally into ‘that is.’ In English, it can commonly be used to mean ‘in other words,’ before elaborating on something previously stated but potentially unclear; i.e. a pseudo-definition. See what I did there?

Still confused? Let’s break it down.

Example: I really enjoy eating scones, i.e., a single-serving quick bread made with baking powder as a leavening agent.

Try replacing i.e. with ‘in other words’ for clarification: I really enjoy eating scones, [in other words], a single-serving quick bread made with baking powder as a leavening agent.

Though ‘in other words’ technically makes sense here, it doesn’t look or read quite right when written that way. But it comes in handy as a mnemonic.

(Disclaimer: I really do enjoy scones, a whole lot. In fact, I am currently gnawing my way through a chocolate chunk scone while typing this. Mmmm…

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…Heaven.)


 

e.g.

e.g. is an abbreviation of a Latin phrase meaning exempli gratia, which translates into ‘for the sake of example,’ or simply ‘for example.’ It is used to preface an example of something.

Example: I started a coin collection long ago. It’s got all kinds of coins in it, e.g., quarters, dimes, nickels, and even pennies.

Similarly to what we did with i.e., try replacing e.g. with ‘for example’ to clarify: I started a coin collection long ago. It’s got all kinds of coins in it, [for example], quarters, dimes, nickels, and even pennies.

In this case, you could write out ‘for example’ in place of e.g., but a semicolon should replace the comma that comes before it, since there would be two independent but related clauses. But the semicolon is something I’ll cover in another blog post some other time, so don’t worry about that for now if you’re unsure of its uses.


I hope I was able to clearly differentiate the terms i.e. and e.g. for you in this post; i.e., I hope this was helpful. Again, see what I did there? That was a poorly forced example; it is probably wise not to always follow in my footsteps. Pick your spots.

Have questions about linguistic devices? Leave them in a comment and I will either reply, or dedicate a new post to your inquiry. As always, thanks for reading.

 

the impropriety of it all

i don’t see a need to capitalize
to scale the beginnings of proper nouns
and letter i’s
because i am no more important than the next guy
and he is certainly no more important
than i
and although it looks okay in text
it’s only that way because it has been that way
for centuries and it’s getting a bit too
complex
see
i’m a simple mind
and even as i’m typing this those dreaded red lines
are appearing beneath the words i write
because apparently they’re not capitalized
but i don’t have the time
to go back and fixate on the impropriety
of it all
so i sit
and i wait
all night
for someone to call me out
and say that it’s unacceptable, that it’s unprofessional
unexceptional
that my pulsing brain must still be a blank slate
if i wasn’t taught how to write it
right


 

What it’s called

“capitalize”

When it was written

This month 5 years ago, in 2009. More specifically: the month after I graduated from high school.

Why it was written

I was ruminating on the grammatical rule that nobody ever challenges; the capitalization of the first letter in a sentence (and the standalone ‘I’). It’s just language. It’s just grammar. It just is. But why? I sat down at my laptop and typed up why I don’t find it necessary- in all lowercase. The final few lines allude to how some might respond to my rebellion.

Bienvenue

Hello, and welcome to ‘Wordsmith.’ I chose the name because my last name is Smith and I’m a lover of writing and language. Pretty clever, eh? Probably not.

I am always striving to become a better writer. I am also striving to become a polyglot, ergo all posts will be in English and French, the latter of which I am currently learning. The purpose of this blog is to share my pieces of writing and hopefully receive some constructive criticism. Please, be as honest as you wish, and don’t sugarcoat anything. Personal opinions, grammar tips, and revision suggestions are all welcomed, as well as anything else you have to say.


Bonjour, et bienvenue à «manieur de mots. J’ai choisi le nom parce que mon nom est Smith et je suis un amoureux de l’écriture et de la langue. Plutôt malin, non? Probablement pas.

Je m’efforce toujours de devenir un meilleur écrivain. Je suis également m’efforce de devenir polyglotte, donc tous les messages seront en anglais et en français, le dernier dont je suis en train d’apprendre. Le but de ce blog est de partager mes morceaux d’écriture et de recevoir l’espère une critique constructive. S’il vous plaît, être aussi honnête que vous le souhaitez, et ne pas édulcorer quoi que ce soit. Les opinions personnelles, des conseils de grammaire, et des suggestions de révision sont tous les bienvenus, ainsi que tout ce que vous avez à dire.