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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Memorial Day and Is that active or passive voice?

cj Sez: I wish you safe and enjoyable Memorial Day festivities, but please take time to remember that the day was set aside to commemorate the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. 


Active vs inactive voice.
(The following are excerpts from an older blog by a prolific author and fellow Sisters-in-Crime member.)

By Lois Winston

  It happened again the other day. I received the results of a contest I had entered and discovered that one of the judges had circled every “was” in the entry and wrote in large capital letters -- PASSIVE VOICE.

  Editors like action verbs. “Was,” along with its brothers and sisters (is, am, are, been, were) is passive and a surefire way to a rejection letter.


  Passive voice is when an action is acted upon the subject, rather than the subject acting.

   The car was driven by Anna is a passive sentence. Anna drove the car is an active sentence. However, Anna was happy to drive the car is not a passive sentence. Anna is expressing emotion. She is acting, rather than being acted upon. Of course, there are more interesting ways to write the sentence to show Anna’s emotions, but that’s a separate discussion.
  One of the easiest ways to tell whether your sentence is active or passive is to analyze the position of the subject, verb, and direct object.

  In active voice, the subject (the one performing the action) will come before the verb (the action), and the verb will come before the direct object (that which is being acted upon.)

  There are instances, though, when passive voice is necessary to the unfolding of a story or better suited to the realism of the dialogue. When we speak, we don’t first think whether our sentences are active or passive before uttering them. We just speak them.

  Manipulate a sentence to avoid passive voice in conversation, and you often transform snappy dialogue into stilted dialogue.

  For example: Billy ran into the house and cried, “Mom! Come quick. Snoopy was hit by a car!” This passage accurately illustrates the way a child might respond to a car hitting his dog. Snoopy was hit by a car is a passive sentence because Snoopy is being acted upon by the car, but the child mentions Snoopy first because the dog’s welfare is uppermost in his mind. Also, by placing the last sentence in passive voice, the author is actually ratcheting up the tension. We don’t know until the very end exactly what hit Snoopy. A stray baseball? A nasty neighbor? A falling tree limb? Although “A car hit Snoopy” is active voice, using it actually lessens the impact of the sentence.

  Still squeamish about the use of “was”? After you have finished your manuscript, do a search of the word. Check each sentence to see if you can rewrite it to avoid using “was.” If you can, and it doesn’t detract from the pace, dialogue, or meaning of the passage, do so. If not, leave it. Some “was” were meant to be.

Except . . . the subjunctive:

  The what, you ask? Subjunctive case or mood is one of the most misunderstood rules in the English language -- and virtually unknown to most contest judges who will circle a “were” and write in a “was” because the subject is singular.
Do you know how fast you were going?

  The subjunctive applies to cases of “wishfulness” or “what if” situations.

   In these cases, “was” becomes “were,” as in, I wish I were taller. “Were” is also used when a sentence or clause uses “if,” “as if,” or “as though,” but only in instances where the statement is contrary to fact.

  Examples include: If I were taller, I could see the stage better, Her twelve-year-old son acts as if he were in kindergarten, or The maid behaved as though she were queen. Because I cannot grow taller, the twelve-year-old is not in kindergarten, and the maid is not a queen, all the statements are contrary to fact, and “was” becomes “were” even though the subjects are all singular.

Keep in mind, though, that the key statement here is “contrary to fact.”

  “If” statements that are not contrary to fact retain the singular form of the verb. “If I was at Starbucks that day, I don’t remember” is a correct sentence because the statement is not contrary to fact whether or not I can recall the event.
(cj Sez: I keep a list of the quirks and twists that I run across, like the stink, stank, stunk. Do you keep a list, or do you run to Google?)


WRITERS: Whether it’s your first time writing a novel or just need a reminder, here’s some info on word counts for different genres;  How Many Words in a Novel? (Updated for 2024) (

  Okay, that’s it for today. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. Raising prayers for a happy and safe you and yours.


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