Passive Voice and Adverbs

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Information about Passive Voice and Adverbs

Published on January 14, 2008

Author: Maurizio


Avoiding the passive voice Overusing adverbs:  Avoiding the passive voice Overusing adverbs The passive voice:  The passive voice The passive voice is the form of a transitive verb whose subject receives the action: The ball was thrown. The active voice is the form of a transitive verb whose subject performs the action: John threw the ball. In English, the passive verb is always formed with an auxiliary verb, a form of the verb “to be.” The clothes were ironed. The dog was groomed. The house was built. Exceptions:  Exceptions “I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive. --Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness “Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty-five years, two months and twelve days. If the first reports are to be believed, Joseph Ricardo died as he had lived.” --P.D. James, The Children of Men Actually, adverbs are pretty unnecessary, usually:  Actually, adverbs are pretty unnecessary, usually Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, pretty, really, little, unfortunately, very, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally, at last: these words suck the meaning out of sentences. “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.” (The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown) Softly, loudly, swiftly, slowly: use “said” modifiers sparingly She said softly, or she whispered? Murmured? Breathed? He said loudly, or he shouted? Yelled? She said swiftly, or she blurted? Snapped? Ordered? Begged? He said slowly, or he mused? Faltered? Stuttered? Find a strong verb, and don’t dilute it with an adverb. He walked slowly across the room. He stumbled? She ran swiftly toward them. She dashed? Write muscular prose:  Write muscular prose Avoid weasel words: almost, half, rather. She half-smiled at him. She almost wished he would just give up and leave. “Still, she did feel rather abandoned.” (Out, Matsuo Kirino, in translation) Use strong, clear, concise language Instead of: A period of unfavorable weather set in. Write: It rained every day for a week. Instead of: He showed satisfaction as he took possession of his reward. Write: He grinned as he pocketed the coin. --Strunk and White, Elements of Style “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.” --Mark Twain Rewriting exercise:  Rewriting exercise Dick walked slowly across the lobby. The elevator door was held open by the bodyguard. He quickly brought out his gun to aim it at Dick’s chest. Dick could see how his finger lightly pressed the trigger. Surprisingly, the clothes of the bodyguard were formal. “Going up?” the bodyguard said to Dick with a nasty curl of his upper lip. Dick cautiously entered the elevator, watching the gun waver slightly in the bodyguard’s hand. Dick put his hands up above his head. “Sadly,” he said, “it seems I have very little choice.” Slide7:  Dick strolled across the marble-pillared lobby toward the brass cage elevator. The bodyguard, in a lavender tuxedo with matching cummerbund, stood holding the door open with one meaty hand, pointing a black revolver at Dick’s chest with the other. As Dick approached, the bodyguard sneered at his ragged tee shirt and stained jeans. His finger tightened on the trigger. “Going up?” Dick sidled into the elevator, keeping his eye on the wavering muzzle of the gun, and his hands above his head. “Do I have a choice?”

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