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The following was originally posted by Morgan:

My Mom saw a sultry and subtle evil behind passive-voice sentences. When she was still alive, I didn’t quite understand the rationale for this … it’s just a construct of the English language, which like any other, might make sense in some situations. With each year I see come and go, I get a little bit more wise to the true nature of her complaint. Verbs should be connected to subjects. Oops, uh, pardon me … writers should connect verbs to their subjects. The “who’s doing it” should, at the very least, exist as a common and successfully-communicated idea, between writer and reader, speaker and listener … whether or not it’s stated specifically, it should be spec’d out in some way. To fall short of that goal, is to deceive.

Perhaps the most blatant failure on this count is “Mistakes were made,” so common it now rates a Wikipedia article, tracing usage beyond Nixon’s henchpersons to Ulysses S. Grant, who tossed it into his 1876 State of the Union message — though Grant did finish off the phrase with “I admit it.”







1 comment

  1. fillyjonk »

    10 July 2013 · 12:38 pm

    The passive voice used to be the standard way of writing in scientific writing. Supposedly the researcher was supposed to excise himself or herself from the process. I don’t know if it was a “we don’t want anyone developing any swollen ego” things or what, but it can make for very annoying reading. I tell my students that that rule has pretty much expired, and I’m glad it has.

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