passive voice

Subject: passive voice
From: aer -at- PCSI -dot- CIRRUS -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 25 Jan 1996 11:09:00 PST

As Geoff Hart correctly noted, the reason the passive
voice is often used appropriately is that one doesn't
always know [or perhaps want to express] the agent,
or doer of the action. Agentless passives are not just
useful, they be necessary! Any clear active statement
can be made passive by "passivizing" the verb [correct
form/tense of the verb to be + "ed"] and putting the subject
into a "by" prepositional phrase. BUT, if you don't know or
can't say who the agent is, then passive is your best or
only choice, and it is not necessarily less clear.

In tech writing there are numerous arguments for the
various forms, voices, constructions we use. Company
policy, clarity, established usage, personal bias, etc.,
all contribute to our sense of what's "right." But don't
lose sight of the intuitive native speaker sense of
intelligibility and comprehensibilty. That's what makes
your prose easily readable and instantly useful [we do
all agree those are common goals, right?]. An awkwardly
phrased active sentence is not a priori better than a smooth
and fitting passive construction -- we see 'em every day and
don't always flinch, so don't get too upset if they work.

Much of the distaste seems to stem from having been
taught [by Miss Grundy?] NEVER to use passive, etc.
It reminds me of the widespread misuse of "between
you and I" which is directly caused by people being
corrected for using "you and me" in the _subject_ slot
of a sentence and getting corrected for it, then they
overcompensate and substitute "you and I" even when
it's inappropriate, as in "between..." which is a prepostional
phrase, but oh well,,, what can ya do? I enjoy it _irregardless_!!!

Illegitimi tatum non carborundum:
Don't let the bastards grind you down.

Al Rubottom /\ tel: 619.535.9505, x1737
aer -at- pcsi -dot- cirrus -dot- com /\ fax: 619.541.2260


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