I need to actively clarify my passive writing advice

image Listen closely…

There it is again! Did you hear it that time? All the whistling and excited hollering? That’s the sound of people who have just realized it’s Friday! Now, keep listening as I remind them that, in addition to being the end of the work week, it’s also time for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing!

* clears throat *

HEY, EVERYONE! It’s time for my NWOW!

* distant sound of baby crying *

See what I mean? Obviously, everyone is busy getting online! For those who might be visiting for the first time, I should explain that my Nickel’s Worth is when I open myself like an oyster and share pearls of writing wisdom gained from 15 years as a shucking columnist. It’s a weekly feature that has been called “…insightful,” “…thought provoking,” “…life changing,” and “…Suspected in several cases of food-borne illness.”

But enough with the accolades!

This week’s post is going to be different from regular NWOWs. That’s because it’s actually a clarification to last week’s Nickel’s Worth which, as some of you may remember, depending on your age, and the number of children in your home, was about… Uh…

Where was I going with this?

Oh right! Recognizing and fixing Passive Voice in your writing. In the previous post, I used Jedi Master Yoda as an example because of his constant placement of verbs before the subject, such as:

“Getting stronger in you the Force is.”
“Sensing the Dark Side in him I am.”
“Write poor dialogue George Lucas does.”

Though putting a verb before the subject can be an indicator of Passive Voice, it’s not the only indicator and a potentially misleading oversimplification. Because I’m a firm believer in taking responsibility squarely on the shoulders, I have no one to blame for this but Yoda. Sure, I may have played a small part, but hey:

Mostly Yoda it was.

Regardless of whose fault it was, I DO know I’d like to thank Ross Murray at Drinking Tips for Teens for offering further clarification from Canada where, as we all know, Soduku isn’t nearly as popular as diagraming sentences. I should mention that Ross has an extensive background in education, and not just as a teen driving instructor; he’s also a talented writer and teacher. For this reason, and because I’m almost out of the pure maple syrup he sent a few months ago, I felt it was important to include a note he sent that helps clarify things a bit more. I’d like to point out that he did so with the level of class and humble demeanor you’d expect from someone trying to disassociate himself from Rob Ford and Justin Bieber.

Ross: When the object in an Active sentence becomes the subject, it’s Passive Voice.
Me: Aren’t you from Quebec or something? Do you even speak English?
Ross: I’m just saying the sentence “I hit the ball” would be Active, and “The ball was hit by me” would be Passive.
Me: Does Toronto even have a baseball team anymore?
Ross: Yes. But I think you’re missing the point. I’m saying…
Me: Americans are fat. That’s what you’re saying. And that if we were more active we wouldn’t be so overweight as a country, right?
Ross: That’s not what I’m saying at all.
Me: It sure sounds like that’s what you’re saying. And I’m not fat, by the way.
Ross: I never said that. I’m just trying to explain that if a form of “to be,” such as the word “was” in “The ball was hit by me,” occurs before the verb, which in this case would be “hit,” then it’s probably a Passive sentence.
Me: Got it, Ross. Your point was taken by me.
Ross: Right. Well, may the Force be with you.

In all seriousness, I really do want to thank Ross for offering his insight and clarification on Passive Voice:

When the object in an active sentence becomes the subject

For example:
Active: I take your point.
Passive: Your point was taken by me.
Actively Passive: I don’t care as long as I can have more maple syrup at some point.

Next week, we’ll address a topic sent in by Michelle at MamaMickTerry, who asked if publishers really give a Tweet about your social media presence.

Until then, feel free to Tweet amongst yourselves.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

75 thoughts on “I need to actively clarify my passive writing advice”

    1. Thanks, SJ. When I realized my first post wasn’t entirely accurate, I had to fix it β€” or at least try to. Glad I could do it in a way that was fun πŸ˜‰

  1. When I was learning (not passive) to be a reporter, I was told (passive) that if you report what your interviewee said with 80% accuracy, you’ve done a good job. I think you hit 60 there. But, as you suggested last week, the bar for humorists is more like 40%, so we’re good.
    Vivre les Expos!
    P.S. With all the snow and cold weather, there’s serious concern about this year’s maple syrup crop.

    1. Thank God for that lowered bar. And I’m not just talking about Canadian baseball.

      As for the syrup, I’ll tuck a bottle of Log Cabin to send your way if things get ugly.

  2. Is this an indictment on the American eduction system vs. Canadian? Are you trying to start a border war? Because we can kick their asses seven ways ’til Sunday. And what’s wrong with Vermont maple syrup? Why do you have to support an imported product vs. domestic. Whose side are you on, anyway? I’m sorry…what was the question?

            1. Hed’s a staff writer at Long Awkward pause (or so it says on his website). I think what you’ve just described is a perfect example of a long awkward pause.

              1. Oh, yes, Paul. I’m familiar with Ned’s pieces at LAP. De Voss, Adam, Blogdramey (former writer) and all those crazyheads have inspired me to write immaturely as often as possible.

                Hed Nickson? I don’t know — has a certain weirdness to it.

  3. Diagramming sentences…I think I threw up in my mouth just a little bit. Such a waste of great maple syrup.

    Love Ross! I just “found” (active) him this week and thoroughly enjoy his writing. You’re a smart man for bringing him in.

    I can only imagine the damage you two would do together πŸ™‚

  4. Passive voice is often just a way of talking about a screw-up without accepting any responsibility for it, for example, “mistakes were made”, “the country was bombed”, “a comment was posted”.

  5. What about passive aggressive? XD I’m ridiculous! Now I must see what NPR is because I keep hearing about it and I don’t know what anything is; well I’m oblivious to many things. Many things lie in the pool of my oblivion. How’s that for passive? I like Yoda even though he is so ugly. I also like Smeagol/Gollum though. Without him, I would have never watched Lord of the Rings or that first Hobbit movie. I’m gonna post my weird habits list today. Don’t miss it, Ned! What was I gonna do? Oh yeah, NPR!! My mind… ugh

    1. I will be looking for your weirdness today. Shouldn’t be hard to spot!

      By the way, there’s a link to NPR on the side of my blog. It takes you to an interview I did, but you can find other, more entertaining and educational stuff from there.

        1. I think you can just Google NPR radio and download an app that lets you listen to it on your device. That’s what I have on mine. That’s what happens when I’m left to my own devices…

      1. You also inspired me to post a political cartoon for humor’s sake. I chose animal experimentation since I already posted a brief paragraph about that.

          1. You’re as intriguing as an animal πŸ˜€
            I’m making the post now for the habits.
            I always take long on these things

  6. I listened to your 5 and a half minutes on NPR from your link. Humor is a nice spoonful of sugar for the daily medicine of life. You’re pretty cool πŸ˜‰
    Now I’m the one winking πŸ˜›

  7. The point you have yet to take, my dear friend, is that Canadians have claimed you as their own…and exchange of hostages, if you will, for Matthew Perry (there was also a draft-choice to be named later in there).

    BTW, the maple syrup was the first step in the quickening.

  8. The reader has been found to consistently appreciate maple syrup more than either grammar or Justin Bieber. However, the post was considered funny by said reader. Clearly, an active mind is needed to make an explanation of the passive voice interesting.

No one is watching, I swear...

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