When is passive not passive?

MJ Logan  (aka Michael L. Williams) of  MJ Logan stopped by and left a very good comment. 

He took my sentence (admittedly not the best example) and pointed out that it was not passive voice at all.  He states that “While every passive voice sentence contains a form of the verb ‘to be’, not every sentence that contains a form of ‘to be’ is passive voice.”  

OOPS!  Gram had glossed over this fact in her post as times when passive voice is appropriate (or Imma was messing around with her). 

The sentence — “Maintaining the wonder of childhood is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean we must remain children in every aspect of our lives.”

Mike goes on to state that, “In this sentence, the implied subject is “I, we, you”, the verb is maintain and the object is wonder. I-maintain-wonder. Subject-action-verb. The “is a good thing” portion is just a clause tacked onto the end.”

He points out that some grammar checkers [and others of us] have trouble telling the difference, “flag(ging) every instance of ‘to be’ as passive.”

He even gives us a trick for figuring out if our verb is passive or not.  “We have to look at a sentence and determine if the subject of the sentence takes an action on the object of the sentence. In an active voice construction, the subject takes action, often on an object, but sometimes on a concept.”

You can read the rest of his excellent comment in Gram’s Gremlins: …….

I think that is what I meant when I said not to take out every ‘to be’ verb, but he says it so much better than I.

MJ also used the Gram and Imma analogy saying, “Now for good part. Gram is keeping Imma in line by keeping the sentence construction active. Imma is being just as stubborn by not allowing Gram’s insistence on active voice to muck up the pretty prose and we end up with – “Jan dreams of a career as a writer.””   I love it!  This is one of the problems with having both voices active in one’s head.  Gram and Imma actually have a lot of fun together, but they can get into it on occasion.

MJ also points out that “the use of passive voice is not always wrong and there are times when its use is almost mandatory. Grammar Girl gives some good examples of when to use and not to use passive voice.”

I know some papers written in APA and other styles require the passive type of writing we’ve discussed.  I hope you will go visit Grammar Girl and see what tips she has for fighting this Gremlin.  Grammar is tricky, and it never hurts to have as many resources as possible if you really want to get it right.

Gram and Imma say thank you to MJ for clarifying when the passive voice actually becomes a gremlin.  It depends on whether you overuse it and what you are writing.



1 Comment


    1. Active vs. passive voice: Why you should care « Write on the World

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