Thursday, December 05, 2013
The craft of rewriting-Technical Flaws-Telling-Passive Constructions
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: March 07, 2013
Active writing produces vivid and tight scenes. In an active sentence, the action is performed and an object or subject receives it. (The boy hit the ball.) In passive sentences, the object becomes the subject, which creates the effect of the subject receiving the action. (The ball was hit by the boy.) In other words, a passive construction places the subject of the sentence in the grammatical “objective” position after the verb. In our example, the boy acts. He “hits” the ball. The ball receives the action. Eliminating passive constructions means first identifying them, and there are a variety of techniques to use in our revision processes. The simplest is to rewrite in steps.
Look for conjugates of “to be” + a past participle (usually, but not always, ending in “-ed”). This combination clearly indentifies a passive construction.
Passive: The castle has been demolished by the giant.
Active: The giant demolished the castle.
See if the sentence describes an action. If so, identify the actor. In a passive construction, there is always an actor, an action, and a recipient, just like in an active construction, even if the actor is only implied. Is this noun at the front of the sentence (in the grammatical subject position) or at the end of the sentence (in the object position) or missing entirely? If the “acting” noun is not at the front of the sentence (before the verb) then the construction is passive.
Check if the sentence ends with “by....” Many passive sentences include the one who acts at the end of the sentence in a “by” phrase, as in the aforementioned “The ball was hit by the boy.” The boy still acts on the ball, but to make the sentence active, “ball” and “boy” must trade places to “The boy hit the ball.” “By” alone, however, isn’t a conclusive sign of the passive voice. As an example, “I read the OFW Writer’s Companion by Carlos J. Cortes and Renee Miller.” This sentence is active with “I” as the subject, “read” as the verb, and “Companion” as the object.
Examples of passive constructions:
Passive: Her hair was pulled by Jacob.
Active: Jacob yanked her ponytail.
Passive: The boy was left alone by his parents.
Active: The boy’s parents left him alone.
Passive: The knight was attacked in the castle. (Useful construction if we don’t know who attacked the knight).
Active: The brigands attacked the knight in the castle.
Passive: Residents were surprised by the news.
Active: The news shocked residents.
Active writing is strong, clear, and concise. It catches the reader’s attention.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
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