Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Little Bit of Grammar For A Thursday

I always laugh when I see judges in writing contests going balistic over some grammar issues. Now don't get me wrong. Grammar is VERY important and I am someone who does indeed focus on grammar when I read submissions. Inaccurate grammar usages does show that either the writer rushed through the submission, or simply is lacking the basic skills necessary. But, what I want to talk about today is some of the more controversial topics.

Before I go any further, the information I am talking about here comes from Diana Hacker's A WRITER'S REFERENCE (link for those of you obsessessed with having me put it here - CLICK HERE!)

Let's start with that whole issue of PASSIVE vs. ACTIVE verbs.

According to Hacker, a writer should try to "choose an active verb and pair it with a subject that names a person, or thing doing the action. Active verbs express meaning more emphatically and vigorously than the weaker counterparts - forms of the verb be or verbs in the passive voice." O.K. this is the rule that some of the hard-core grammar freaks will live on. Are they wrong? No. It is indeed true that active verbs do pack more of a punch than those in passive...but...

You have to read further...

Hacker goes on to note that the "passive voice is appropriate if you wish to emphasize the receiver of the action or to mimimize the importance of the actor."

In other words, there is indeed a time and place for both the active and the passive voice. Writers simply can't stick to one rule and obsess over this wording if it simply doesn't work in that case. Again, according to Hacker: "Although you may be tempted to avoid the passive voice completely, keep in mind that some writing situations call for it."

I like what she says later on in the text as well. When it comes to our writing, especially in fiction, we have to continually think about the fluency of the text as well as the entertainment factor for our reader. If the writing is dragging, we have to do something about it. Again, let me return to Hacker: "Not every be verb needs replacing. The forms of be (be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been) work well when you want to link a subject to a noun that clearly names it" but "if using a verb makes the sentence needlessly dull and wordy, however, consider replacing it."

The point of this small grammar lesson is simple. THINK as a writer. Find the wording that works the best to convey the meaning of the story. If it requires passive voice then please, ignore those freaks who yell at you that passive should never be used. The odds are, these same people also believe that paragraphs have to be exactly 7 sentences in length and that a paragraph must begin with a topic sentence in every situation.


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