“The pen is as much a butcher’s tool/As ever was the blade…”

If someone posts something on a blog/website that’s open for anyone and everyone to read, it’s okay to have an opinion about what’s on that blog/website, right?

(That’s your early warning: Weaver is on a rampage again; he’s annoyed about some writing-related bullshit posted online by someone who, if their claims of grammatical competence are true, Ought to Know Better. In this case, that someone is a freelance editor who doesn’t know what the hell passive voice is… and also doesn’t know that book titles should be italicized, not enclosed in double quotation marks, but I won’t be addressing that error in this post.)

Today, we’re here to take a close look at yet another bullshit post about “passive voice” and how apparently “passive voice” is any sentence structure the BSer doesn’t like.

Here’s an example of “passive voice” from the above infographic-ish thing: Arcing across the sky was a streak of light, as a falling star.

That’s not passive voice, friends. (Don’t believe me? Try the zombie test; add by zombies after the predicate verb and see if it makes sense… and of course is doesn’t.) “Editor” says it’s passive because the verb is arcing, and since arcing isn’t right next to the subject of the sentence…

*rolls eyes* That’s not how it works. Word order is not what determines whether a sentence is active or passive. Also, yes, arcing is a verb, but it’s not the verb; it’s not the predicate verb in that sentence. The predicate verb is was. (Use of a to be verb — is, was, are, etc. — doesn’t automatically make a sentence passive, either. It was raining by zombies. Nope. Doesn’t work.)

“Editor” also says this sentence is passive voice: Through him was running an icy shiver.

(Spoiler: It’s not passive voice.)

“Editor” says that, because shiver is the subject of the sentence, and shiver isn’t right next to the verb, the sentence is passive.

Much wrong. So idjit. Wow.

(From the editor’s own About page: “Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.” That is passive voice, friends… plus the placement of also is awkward. Try the zombie test on this sentence: “Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published by zombies.” I don’t doubt it.)

I shouldn’t use or even reference someone else’s material without giving credit, right? 🙂 So, in case you can’t read the fine print at the bottom of that “Writing Tip” infographic, the URL there is inventingrealityediting.wordpress.com. Personally, I find the name rather appropriate, since the “editor” seems bent on inventing his own reality for the definition of passive voice.

(Want a reliable, accurate, and easy-to-understand source of information about passive voice and how to identify it? See what Grammar Girl has to say.)



About Thomas Weaver

For several years, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom (editor). I'm physically disabled, and I currently live with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have eight cats. I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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4 Responses to “The pen is as much a butcher’s tool/As ever was the blade…”

  1. M. Oniker says:

    Ah, my weekly dose of Weaver Rants. Nicely done. “Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published by zombies.” I don’t doubt it.) had me slapping the top of the desk as I laughed. I know I don’t write like I should know this, but Grammar Girl is great.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yet, passive voice has a place in writing. I understand it can be over used, but I’ve also read people trying so hard to get rid of it that sentences become odd.

    Everything in moderation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. D.T. Nova says:

    The actual passive voice version of that sentence would be something like “The sky was arced across by a streak of light like a falling star”, right?
    (You still can’t add “by zombies”, but that’s because it already has a “by” phrase, which it needs to contain the same information that was in the active voice sentence.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right; you can’t add by zombies to that sentence because there’s already something else performing the action. The “zombie test” isn’t perfect, although it does seem to be more reliable than any of the other currently popular methods for identifying passive voice. The point is that if the action is performed on the subject of the sentence (by zombies, by a streak of light, or by a furry little critter from Alpha Centauri) instead of performed by the subject, the sentence is passive.

      Liked by 1 person

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