Re: the passive voice

Subject: Re: the passive voice
From: Stephen Bernhardt <sbernhar -at- NMSU -dot- EDU>
Date: Thu, 3 Feb 1994 13:02:26 -0700

To the CalPoly students on passive voice

The key is to first know what passive is and then to know when to prefer
it. People confuse passive with third person, and some with verb tense,
as in present and past. It is actually a matter of voice in the verb
system, and sentences can be stative (neither passive nor active, as in
linking verb sentences) or non-transitive (taking no object), or
transitive and either passive or active. It is worth understanding the
differences. And passive does not mean (or shouldn't) sentences that lack
vigor or action, in a general sense.

Passives are good for controlling topical focus, for getting subjects on
the table, for linking one sentence to the next, for avoiding human
responsibility where it is inadvisable to take responsibility, and for
other reasons. One use of passive I like is for technical documentation,
where the user does certain things, and the machine responods in certain
ways. Active sentences can signal what the user does, passive signals
machine actions that automatically take place ("A total is calculated and
the bottom line adjusted accordinly.

> Stephen A. Bernhardt >
> Department of English, Box 3E >
> New Mexico State University >
> Las Cruces, NM 88003 >
> 505-646-2027 FAX 505-646-7725 >
> e-mail sbernhar -at- nmsu -dot- edu >

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