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Friday, February 4, 2011

Criminal Sentence 507: What Is Passive?

From a blog post about what not to do in a first paragraph:

"Passive voice. As in 'he/she was', or 'he/she had'. I'd say, as a rule, if you have 'had' or 'was' anywhere in your first paragraph (or even your first SENTENCE), take 'em out. And obviously, over-use of either throughout a manuscript is a no-no."

Overall, this is good advice, but "he/she was" and "he/she had" are not passive voice constructions. "She was kissed by the man" is passive voice. The writer meant "Don't use weak verbs."

Also, the period goes inside the quotation mark in American English.

Also, overuse is one word with no hyphen.

6 comments:

Westley said...

I must comment on your mention of the punctuation relative to the quote. Coming from a technical background, I would have to put the period outside the quote because it is NOT part of what is being quoted, ie the quote doesn't end a sentence.

The reason that I mention my techie background is that in a computer manual I might tell you to type "STOP." In that case you WILL type the period, but I might have to say to type "STOP". This time you don't type the period because it's not part of the quoted material. It makes quite a difference to computers.

(In either case, I certainly don't like the comma before the 'or'.)

OTOH I agree completely with 'he was' not necessarily being passive. The sentence could have continued "He was mad." That's certainly not passive. (Though it is telling as opposed to showing, and so should still be fixed but for a different reason.)

Thanks again for keeping us on the straight and narrow path to grammarhood.

Megan Leslianne said...

I agree with Westley. I do understand that the period goes inside the quotation mark in American English. Being an Australian, however, I use standard British English, which dictates that the period goes outside the quotation marks. This is a mute argument because one is correct for one type of English and one is correct for another type of English, but of course I'm biased and claim that the American English way is incorrect anyway. :)

It doesn't make sense to me to put the period before the quotation marks because the period, as Westley said, is not part of what is being described. What is being described is within the sentence, so the period should appear after it. I've never understood why the Americans changed it to this from the British English.

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Hi, guys. I'm a Brit at heart (spent my first 10 years of life in London), but I've been Americanized.
I agree with Westley about periods and computer manuals. Many American computer manuals do put punctuation outside quotation marks because it does make a difference in computer language. On the other hand, I didn't create the rules of punctuation for regular sentences, so I have to stick with the grammar guides, which instruct us to put the punctuation inside.

Anonymous said...

Commas and periods inside the quotations is called typesetters' rules or typesetters' quotations. Apparently in the 19th century, American typesetters found it more convenient to place the comma and period inside the closing quotation (the smaller typeset pieces had a tendency to wander otherwise and were also more easily damaged), and that is why Americans and Brits follow different guidelines: one stuck with convention; the other changed for the sake of stable type and economy.

Melinda Brasher said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Even if I didn't punctuate that last sentence right, I think you get the meaning. In my writers' critique group, people are always talking about "passive voice" when they mean "weak verbs." "He was tired" is not passive voice. Neither is "They are walking." These sentences might sound rather boring and passive, but they're not grammatically passive.

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Agreed, Melinda. Strunk & White makes this mistake too. Ugh!