Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Scrutinize every use of "was" for passivity and weakness. Using "was" doesn't mean you are writing a passive sentence. However, it is the number one quick clue that you may be. Contrary to many "rules," passive sentences are not evil. In the right moment, genre, or scene, a passive sentence may be the perfect choice. Using "was" is easy. It may also create weak sentences even if they are not passive. Look it over. Is there a stronger way to write that sentence?


Austin Carr said...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by William Strunk Jr., later updated by E.B. White, says, "The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive" and cites several examples, including;

(Passive) There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground.

(Active) Dead leaves covered the ground.

"Note, in the examples above, that when a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter. Thus, brevity (another suggested goal of Strunk and White) is a by-product of vigor."

It has become fashionable, especially among "literary" writers, to claim such Old School guidelines are passe, yet The Elements of Style is still widely used to teach professional writers. And except for misspellings and bad grammar, there is no quicker way to spot an amateur than the steady use of "was" and "is."

Rick Bylina said...
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Rick Bylina said...

So right you and they are. Just like Jessica Rabbit, "was" isn't, it's just badly used.