“You Know, Dude, I Dabbled in Pacifism Once.” — Walter Sobchak

This lesson goes out to Joshua. Joshua is a good man, but his Microsoft Word is always telling him that he’s too passive. “Joshua,” Microsoft Word says. “Stop pussyfooting around, and say what you mean already!”  To which Joshua responds, “Oh you, P.O.S.! I’m trying!” This situation results in hair loss and explosions time and time again, but what Joshua needs to remember is that he’s not alone.

Microsoft Word hypercorrects passiveness to an extreme, and anyone who uses it understands how pleasant it would feel to break out a Louisville Slugger when Word busts out that annoying little green line.

So, today, I’d like to go over passive voice. To help you understand the difference between passive and active voice, I’d like to call in a couple friends, Passive Mouse and Active Mouse.


Well, Active Mouse, that’s one way to say it.

So, what is passive voice, and why does Microsoft Word have such a freaking cow over it? Let me break it down. Passive voice is when the subject speaks as if they’ve had an action done to them instead of preforming the action themselves.

For instance, when Bobby decided that eating a bobby pin would be a good idea, he could passively say,  “The bobby pin was eaten by me,” or something a little more direct like,”I ate the bobby pin.”

Using passive voice is like not taking responsibility for your subject’s own actions. If Ike Turner were to be slapped around by Tina (You go, Tina! It’s about time!), Ike could passively say, “Tina slapped me square in the nose,” or “I was slapped square in the nose by Tina.” Is this making sense? A lot of the time, you can take your sentences out of passivity by removing the other person or object, and making the sentence about the subject and the subject only.

Another common misconception is that passive voice is incorrect. This is absolutely not true. When your Microsoft Word starts underlining your sentences in green, just give it the middle finger. Microsoft Word was programmed by drunken monkeys, and if its passive-voice recommendations are even correct in the first place, they’re really just telling you to be a little more direct. I’m certain that if grammar check was around in the days of Shakespeare, a trebuchet would have been built to catapult 17th-century projectiles at its ugly face.

Josh is a brilliant engineer, so the sentence he wrote that had Microsoft Word all up in arms was the following: This coupling is designed to absorb up to 400 Nm of vibratory torque.

My suggestion is that he could reword it to say: This coupling’s design absorbs up to 400Nm of vibrational torque. Do you see what I mean about passive voice not always being wrong? It ain’t wrong! It ain’t! But if you catch your writing sounding all feeble like Passive Mouse, dwell for a moment on the action of your words, close your eyes, and try again only this time emerging as Action Mouse. Got it? Good.

Do questions remain? Leave a comment!

All for now,

LL

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3 Comments

Filed under passive voice

3 responses to ““You Know, Dude, I Dabbled in Pacifism Once.” — Walter Sobchak

  1. Joshua

    But if I write, ‘This coupling’s design absorbs up to 400 Nm of vibrational torque’, does it suggest that the design is absorbing the torque as opposed to the actual coupling?

  2. Jigga, what? You lost me at “butt”.

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