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Is there passive voice in either sentence?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Darkfantasy, Oct 4, 2015.

  1. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    I'm learning about passive and active voice. And I don't think I get it yet. So I wrote two random sentences that I don't think are in passive voice or have passive voice in them. Would you just check them for me and tell me?

    1) It was a cold, dark day. The weather matched her mood perfectly as she leant her forehead against the frosted window. Her breath fogged up the glass.

    2) It was a chilly, shadowy day. The climate harmonized her disposition flawlessly as she leant her forehead adjacent to the ice-covered window. Her gasp fogged up the glass.
     
  2. arbiter117

    arbiter117 Minstrel

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    I don't see passive voice in the sentences, but I'm no English professor!

    Sent from my Nexus 5 using Tapatalk
     
  3. johnsonjoshuak

    johnsonjoshuak Troubadour

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    As an English major, they are both passive. "It was..." is typically a passive intro and having the verb before the subject makes it sound passive, so I try to remove "was" or "were" from the beginnings of my sentences.

    1: The weather matched her mood: cold and dark. She leaned her forehead against the frosted window and a plume of fog formed on the glass from her breath.

    2: The clouds hid the sun, creating pools of shadow and a chill in the air. Her disposition match the climate as she leaned her forehead on the ice-covered window. Her gasp fogged up the glass.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2015
  4. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    The classic advice is: if you can add 'by zombies' and it makes perfect grammatical sense, then it's true passive voice. But just because it has 'was' or 'were' in it, doesn't necessarily mean it's passive voice. In the example:

    It was a cold, dark day (by zombies). No.
    The weather matched her mood perfectly (by zombies)... No.
    ...as she leant her forehead against the frosted window (by zombies). No.
    Her breath fogged up the glass (by zombies). No.

    The last three are straightforwatd past tense. Some actual passive voice examples:

    The dog was killed (by zombies). Yes.
    The rain was deflected (by zombies). Yes.
    The house was built (by zombies). Yes.
     
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  5. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    Okay now I'm more confused.
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don't know that they are passive voice. Passive voice is when the subject is acted on by the verb. At least that's my recollection. You can have "to be" verbs without passive voice.
     
  7. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    EDIT: Take this post with a pinch of salt. I may not have known what I was talking about.

    The two examples are essentially the same. It's just tha
    In the second one I've bolded the words that are the same. The once that remain are basically just different versions of the words in the first example: cold-chilly, mood-disposition, etc.

    My thinking here is that you've gotten passive and active voice up with something else. If you could give an explanation of how you understand it, then that'd get us all on the same level. Bonus: explaining your thinking will help you understand it better yourself (the best way to learn something is to teach it).

    I hadn't previously heard Pauline's zombie example, but it's one I keep in mind for future reference.

    Another rule of thumb I like is "doing is more fun than being".
    It alludes to how active voice (doing) is more engaging than passive (being).
    The next step to understanding the rule is to think of being as existing in a state (thanks BWFoster for that explanation). If something just exists, then it's passive.

    Example:
    I was running.
    This means that at the time I existed in a running state. It sounds a bit weird and doesn't flow as naturally as the zombie rule, but it emphasizes how things can get a bit absurd if you use too much passive voice.

    I ran.
    Active voice. I ran. It's what I did.

    I hope this doesn't confuse things too much further.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2015
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  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    They both seem somewhat passive to me.

    It's not just those "It was..." intros, but also because of these:

    • The weather matched
    • The climate harmonized

    and then, in both,

    • as she leant her forehead

    "To match" or even "to harmonize" are passive in these uses (in my opinion) because they are in essence acting like "to be" verbs. The weather and climate don't act willfully; and although both weather and climate are quite active forces in our world, the observations made by the narrator with those two here are observational, descriptive in a "to be" sense. For instance, you could have said, The weather was perfectly like her mood or The climate was exactly [i.e., flawlessly] like her disposition, and the meaning wouldn't be essentially changed.

    Compare a different use of "to match." — "He stepped toward me, sword drawn, and I matched him, my own blade eager for blood." That would imply an actual movement, activity.

    Added to the above...if you look at what is actually happening, the person is inactive except for leaning her forehead, and that leaning is merely modifying the observations about the weather/climate. I do believe that in both of your examples, the last sentence, about breath fogging glass, is active, and her leaning is active, but these follow passive phrasing, passive observation about the weather and climate.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2015
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  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Svrtnsse,

    Prose that is passive is not the same thing as prose that is written in passive voice.
     
  10. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Oh, crap... >.<
    I guess I need to look into this further then.
     
  11. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    'Prose that is passive is not the same thing as prose that is written in passive voice.'

    Ahhhh! lol I don't know what I know anymore. I thought I understood it. Brain says no.
     
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  12. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Don't worry, I though I had this down too. :p
     
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  13. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    I just go with what MS Word tells me. Play with the settings a bit, and there is a button that will underline all the passive voice stuff.

    However, I see nothing wrong an occasional sentence or two of passive voice, maybe once every page or three.
     
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  14. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    LOL okay but at least we have all learnt something. We've learnt none of us know what we're talking about lol.
     
  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    So after reviewing "passive voice," I think this may be the key comment in this thread!

    Technically, a passive voice, as opposed to merely passive prose, switches an object and subject.

    I.e., in active voice, something does something, and may be doing something to something:

    • The weather matched my mood.

    But the passive voice takes the object and turns it into a subject, with use of an auxiliary verb and past participle:

    • My mood was matched by the weather.

    Hence, that guideline given by PaulineMRoss: If you can add "by zombies" to it and it makes sense, it's a passive voice.

    Passive voice seems to be descriptive, observational, about some object, but may hide an otherwise active subject. Essentially, it's showing that something has been acted upon.

    • The dog was kicked. [by zombies]
    • The weather was changed. [by a wizard]
    • He was mortified. [by the revelation of her secret.]
    • He was wounded. [by the errant arrow.]

    As examples of an active voice, these could be written as

    • Zombies kicked the dog.
    • A wizard changed the weather.
    • The revelation of her secret mortified him.
    • The errant arrow wounded him.

    The two examples given in the OP are not in passive voice, I think, but are still passive prose...or seem so to me.

    But there's nothing inherently wrong with using passive prose from time to time.
     
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  16. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yes. I agree with fifth view. Passive voice is when you make the object of the sentence into the subject of the sentence. It can be very confusing to read because we don't typically talk in passive voice, and it is boring, because we want to read about something 'doing' something instead of something being 'done to' something… It has nothing to do with past tense, which is saying "I was…. or it was… " etc.

    Active: Why did the chicken cross the road? (Chicken is crossing the road = active)
    Passive: Why was the road crossed by the chicken? (The road is just sitting there)

    Active: The Dragon scorched the Metropolis with it's fiery breath.
    Passive: The metropolis has been scorched by the dragon's fiery breath.

    Active: The Seagull caught the fish.
    Passive: The fish was caught by the seagull.

    This page explains it really well.

    Passive Voice - The Writing Center

    So both your examples are active voice.

    1) It was a cold, dark day. The weather matched her mood perfectly as she leant her forehead against the frosted window. Her breath fogged up the glass.

    I could make it passive by saying:

    It was a cold, dark day. (Nothing is happening in this sentence so it is neither passive or active, just description.

    Her mood was matched by the weather (passive)
    The frosted window was where her forehead lay. (Passive)
    The glass was fogged by her breath. (passive)

    Does that makes sense?

    The second sentence is exactly the same, you just used different describing words. It is active.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2015
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  17. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I'm afraid I'm still confused, or I'm just dense...

    I think I'm pretty clear on what passive voice is by now, but what's the meaning of "prose that is passive," and how is it different from "prose that is written in passive voice?"
     
  18. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    I also find it ultra-confusing when people talk about 'passive prose', so you're not alone. I prefer the word 'weak' in that case, rather than passive, because inevitably someone looks at every instance of 'was' or 'were' as passive VOICE when it may just be passive STYLE.

    Example:

    It was a dark and stormy night.

    NOT passive voice (because you can't say 'It was a dark and stormy night by zombies'). But a bit weak. But this:

    Wind howled round the cottage, and rain lashed against the windows. Somewhere in the darkness, a shutter was banging.

    That's much stronger, because it's using active verbs. It's also showing, rather than telling. But it's also much longer, less succinct, and too much of it can be wearing. So there's a place for each style. Using active verbs is more immediate, works well for action scenes or moments of high drama or tension. Using weaker verbs is more distancing, slower, good for transitioning, or for slowing the pace down.

    And, more than anything, a mixture of verbs is good. No style is good or bad in itself, so feel free to use passive voice, weak prose, active prose, whatever the writing needs at that point, but don't overdo any of them.
     
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  19. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Thanks. I think I get it now.

    I still don't have a good way of putting it into words, but I'm getting a better feel for the concept.

    Maybe thinking about it as the energy level of the prose might be helpful (just "thinking out loud here"). Active voice has a higher energy level than passive voice, and the energy is used to engage the reader.
    Is it that even though you're using active voice you can reduce the energy of your prose to a level similar to that of passive voice, and that that's what's meant by weak/passive prose?

    Or am I overthinking it now? :)
     
  20. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Svrtnsse,

    Sorry if I created confusion with my use of the term "passive prose." I used the term to denote prose that does not convey motion and is, thus, passive.

    The character rested in his chair.
    The character was tired.
    The character watched the bad guy.

    It's not a bad thing to have inactive sentences when they're called for, but in general, sentences that utilize verbs that convey movement are considered stronger. If a section of your narrative is reading kinda dull and boring, take a look at your verbs.
     
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