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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thank ol’ Mrs. Anderson for this one.
Mrs. Anderson was my seventh grade English teacher who insisted the class adhere to every motherlovin’ grammar rule… no matter how archaic. Or stupid.
As as result, everyone learned to write dreadful passive prose. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seldom met a passive sentence I liked. Chances are good you’ve got a Mrs. Anderson in your past, too. Exorcise that demon’s teaching immediately.
Examples of passive sentences:
The awards presentation this year will be emceed by Wink Martindale.
My daughter was given a turtle by my sister-in-law.
Notice how the subjects of the sentences are receiving the action? Blech. Here’s how to fix them: Wink Martindale will emcee this year’s awards presentation.
My sister-in-law gave a turtle to my daughter.
Here, the sentence subjects are performing the actions. Subjects — not to mention your readers — yearn for action. Don’t disappoint them.
This is the best sample of this I could find. Most of my editing involves more than one tip, but this one has a lot of active rather than passive sentences:
The sunrise was obscured by the clouds The steely gray clouds obscured the sunrise as I made my way over to the site. I shivered in my coat that was too small. I shivered in my coat that began refusing to zip up about 40 pounds ago, and my thin knit pants. Any indian summer warmth from the sun’s rays was swallowed up by the clouds. A cold front had brought in a storm. Heavy with moisture, they’d arrived over night on a cold front that was still trying to blow away every last leaf clinging to the nearly bare trees. I was sitting in my chair looking for the excavation guy. Perched on the edge of the ditch-bank in my camp chair, I scanned the roads, eyes peeled and ears perked for signs of the earthmoving equipment. As I tugged the jacket around my waist, I contemplated the irony of the situation.

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