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Thank you, Janet, for your excellent defense of the passive as a legitimate
tool for saying exactly what we mean!
"Everyone comes to a meeting on Wednesday"
is NOT the equivalent of
"A meeting is held every Wednesday."
The first instance reports the location of personnel on a given day; the
second, the existence of a meeting. For example:
"Everyone comes to a meeting on Wednesday, so that's the perfect time
to toilet-paper the manager's office."
"A meeting is held every Wednesday to plan whose office will be
While the above make sense (er, sort of), switching them does not:
"Everyone comes to a meeting on Wednesday to plan whose office will be
"A meeting is held every Wednesday, so that's the perfect time to
toilet-paper the manager's office."
At least not to me... (:-)
Heli L. Roosild
helir -at- msmailhq -dot- netimage -dot- com
To: Multiple recipients of list TECHWR-L
Subject: Re: passive voice
Date: Monday, January 22, 1996 4:13PM
It seems to me that many people treat words written in the passive
voice as if they were leprosy germs. The passive voice is "real"
English which has perfectly legitimate uses.
A meeting is held every Wednesday. This is a perfectly legitimate
sentence which says exactly what I want to say. In order to make the
sentence active, I would have to research who originally decided to
hold the meetings so I could say: Tom holds a meeting every Wednesday.
However, the point of the sentence is not Tom; it is meeting and
Wednesday. Who decided that the meetings would be held on Wednesday is
not important to the communication. What if Tom has been fired? Then
I would have to say:
Tom used to hold a meeting every Wednesday, but Tom was fired.
Now, nobody holds a meeting every Wednesday. Everyone just comes
to a meeting on Wednesday out of habit.
It's very important not to use passive voice when active would be
better. But it is also important to recognize those occasions when the
passive voice is the better choice.
jvalade -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com