Posted: 22 Jan 2014 08:53 PM PST
A great deal of nonsense is written about “Passive Voice,” especially on sites targeted to writers.
Here’s a typically misleading bit of writing instruction under the heading “How to Make Passive Writing Active”:
If this writing coach is labeling “The inn was noisy” as passive because of the verb was, then the second sentence is no improvement. Both was and made are unexceptional verbs that link their subjects to the adjective noisy. Grammatically speaking, both sentences are in Active Voice.
The problem here, as in similar advice to writers, is using the word passive as the opposite of strong: “But it’s passive. We can make it stronger.”
Voice is the grammatical term for the form of the verb that shows whether the person or thing denoted by the subject does the action or receives the action of the verb:
I don’t know if the confusion about passive voice began with Strunk and White, but misinformation in the over-veneratedElements of Style has done much to spread and reinforce it. (For details, see Taking Another Look at Strunk and White.)
Depending upon the author’s purpose, passive voice can be a valid stylistic choice. That being said, writing can be tightened and enlivened by ridding it of unnecessary linking verbs and by replacing continuous (progressive) tenses with simple tenses.
One way to dispel the confusion over the grammatical meaning of passive might be to find other adjectives to describe weak, unimaginative verb choices. Here are a few suggestions: