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Passive Voice

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By John McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | September 4, 2013
I see that I have my work cut out for me.  Yesterday, as I was going over a little diagnostic exercise in my copy editing class, a student volunteered to identify an error in one sentence. "Passive voice," she said confidently. The sentence in question did not have a passive construction; the verb was in the present perfect tense: "has served. "   So I am going to surmise, as it is usually safe to do, that my students have been instructed along the way, that the passive voice is a wicked thing that, like Communism in the 1950s, can be lurking anywhere, in compound verbs, in there is/there are  sentences, in any clause that contains a form of  to be .  This misinformation is hardly limited to undergraduates.
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NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | July 10, 2014
You go to work with the language you have, not the language you want.  The Fowler brothers thought that English would be tidier if we used that to introduce restrictive clauses and which  to introduce nonrestrictive clauses. Prescriptivists have seized on that suggestion and persuaded many editors and some writers that it is a Rule rather than a recommendation or pious hope.  The redoubtable Kory Stamper, in one of her excellent Merriam-Webster videos on usage , explains that merely thinking it's a rule does not make it one. Similarly, before you start to peeve about what a Wicked Thing the passive voice is, you might want to take the time to look at how frequently you use passive constructions yourself.
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NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | April 20, 2012
At Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams is not happy with the Associated Press Stylebook 's abandonment of the nonsensical prohibition of hopefully as a sentence adverb, and collaterally not happy with me for my part in prodding the editors toward that decision. Unfortunately, whatever merit her argument might have had was vitiated by her resort to the Hoary Shibboleths to bolster her authority. "Yet I'm lax about ending sentences with a preposition," she said, and well she might be, since we have long since abandoned the eighteenth century's English-must-be-like-Latin approach to usage.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | January 24, 2014
Suppose that you are an editor, reasonably well-informed and conscientious. You deal daily with writers, perhaps also with colleagues who are fellow editors. Part of your triage is to identify which class of colleague you are dealing with in a given situation, so as to respond appropriately.  Some guidelines: The Uninformed:  Many, if not most, writers write intuitively, "by ear," or by unconscious imitation of the forms they encounter. Since no one ever taught them formal grammar, they get lost in the thicket when there are technicalities and come to you. They come to you because you have been identified as someone who can determine when to use who  and when to use whom .  This is the easiest class to deal with.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | July 10, 2014
You go to work with the language you have, not the language you want.  The Fowler brothers thought that English would be tidier if we used that to introduce restrictive clauses and which  to introduce nonrestrictive clauses. Prescriptivists have seized on that suggestion and persuaded many editors and some writers that it is a Rule rather than a recommendation or pious hope.  The redoubtable Kory Stamper, in one of her excellent Merriam-Webster videos on usage , explains that merely thinking it's a rule does not make it one. Similarly, before you start to peeve about what a Wicked Thing the passive voice is, you might want to take the time to look at how frequently you use passive constructions yourself.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | May 4, 2012
It's not that I mind being treated as an oracle - it's a little flattering to be consulted on points of language and usage. But I sometimes wonder why people write to me for answers that are, or ought to be, near at hand to them. When someone poses a question about usage, the first book I usually reach for (yes, little ones, Mr. John still believes in books) is Bryan Garner's Garmer's Modern American Usage . Though his prefaces bristle a little about descriptivists, he is the very model of a modern moderate prescriptivist.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | July 27, 2012
I once worked on revising a newsroom stylebook and startled a fellow member of the committee by pointing out that the highest U.S. military decoration is the Medal of Honor, not the Congressional Medal of Honor. He shook his head in disbelief. "I've always heard it as the Congressional Medal of Honor," he said. I hit him with the full weight and majesty of the Associated Press Stylebook , and he submitted, but only reluctantly, with further head-shaking and muttering. Thus I learned a valuable lesson: Once an idea lodges in a journalist's noggin, it has adamantine endurance.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | March 7, 2012
In advance of National Grammar Day, Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl!) reposted her "Top Ten Grammar Myths. " One of the responses was from Renee Schuls-Jacobson, in an ill-informed comment* that contained a blunder in grammar . Ms. Schuls-Jacobson described herself as an English professor, and, indeed, she appears to teach composition at Monroe Community College in New York. In 2009, appearing on Dan Rodricks's Midday show to talk about grammar, I got note from Margaret Benner of the writing support program at Towson University disputing my use of discretionary commas . It was so weirdly out there that the usually unflappable Jan freeman was moved to comment: "It is so very depressing to hear that a college writing teacher actually believes that is a 'rule.' I don't even think it's the preferable option; I would use the commas in both sample sentences, and I've spent my career as an editor and a student of English usage.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | January 24, 2014
Suppose that you are an editor, reasonably well-informed and conscientious. You deal daily with writers, perhaps also with colleagues who are fellow editors. Part of your triage is to identify which class of colleague you are dealing with in a given situation, so as to respond appropriately.  Some guidelines: The Uninformed:  Many, if not most, writers write intuitively, "by ear," or by unconscious imitation of the forms they encounter. Since no one ever taught them formal grammar, they get lost in the thicket when there are technicalities and come to you. They come to you because you have been identified as someone who can determine when to use who  and when to use whom .  This is the easiest class to deal with.
NEWS
By Clarence Page and Clarence Page,Chicago Tribune | November 28, 2006
Until his racist rant at a Los Angeles comedy club threw his faltering stand-up comedy career onto a bonfire of insanity, Michael Richards was best known to millions as The Guy Who Used to Play Kramer on Seinfeld, one of the most popular shows in TV history. Now he's known as the mixed-up weirdo who gave us something besides sports and the midterm elections to talk about over Thanksgiving dinners. By now you know the story: A raging Mr. Richards was caught on video camera spewing the N-word and making obscene lynching references at some black hecklers in the audience.
NEWS
By John McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | September 4, 2013
I see that I have my work cut out for me.  Yesterday, as I was going over a little diagnostic exercise in my copy editing class, a student volunteered to identify an error in one sentence. "Passive voice," she said confidently. The sentence in question did not have a passive construction; the verb was in the present perfect tense: "has served. "   So I am going to surmise, as it is usually safe to do, that my students have been instructed along the way, that the passive voice is a wicked thing that, like Communism in the 1950s, can be lurking anywhere, in compound verbs, in there is/there are  sentences, in any clause that contains a form of  to be .  This misinformation is hardly limited to undergraduates.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | July 27, 2012
I once worked on revising a newsroom stylebook and startled a fellow member of the committee by pointing out that the highest U.S. military decoration is the Medal of Honor, not the Congressional Medal of Honor. He shook his head in disbelief. "I've always heard it as the Congressional Medal of Honor," he said. I hit him with the full weight and majesty of the Associated Press Stylebook , and he submitted, but only reluctantly, with further head-shaking and muttering. Thus I learned a valuable lesson: Once an idea lodges in a journalist's noggin, it has adamantine endurance.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | May 4, 2012
It's not that I mind being treated as an oracle - it's a little flattering to be consulted on points of language and usage. But I sometimes wonder why people write to me for answers that are, or ought to be, near at hand to them. When someone poses a question about usage, the first book I usually reach for (yes, little ones, Mr. John still believes in books) is Bryan Garner's Garmer's Modern American Usage . Though his prefaces bristle a little about descriptivists, he is the very model of a modern moderate prescriptivist.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | April 20, 2012
At Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams is not happy with the Associated Press Stylebook 's abandonment of the nonsensical prohibition of hopefully as a sentence adverb, and collaterally not happy with me for my part in prodding the editors toward that decision. Unfortunately, whatever merit her argument might have had was vitiated by her resort to the Hoary Shibboleths to bolster her authority. "Yet I'm lax about ending sentences with a preposition," she said, and well she might be, since we have long since abandoned the eighteenth century's English-must-be-like-Latin approach to usage.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | March 7, 2012
In advance of National Grammar Day, Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl!) reposted her "Top Ten Grammar Myths. " One of the responses was from Renee Schuls-Jacobson, in an ill-informed comment* that contained a blunder in grammar . Ms. Schuls-Jacobson described herself as an English professor, and, indeed, she appears to teach composition at Monroe Community College in New York. In 2009, appearing on Dan Rodricks's Midday show to talk about grammar, I got note from Margaret Benner of the writing support program at Towson University disputing my use of discretionary commas . It was so weirdly out there that the usually unflappable Jan freeman was moved to comment: "It is so very depressing to hear that a college writing teacher actually believes that is a 'rule.' I don't even think it's the preferable option; I would use the commas in both sample sentences, and I've spent my career as an editor and a student of English usage.
NEWS
By Clarence Page and Clarence Page,Chicago Tribune | November 28, 2006
Until his racist rant at a Los Angeles comedy club threw his faltering stand-up comedy career onto a bonfire of insanity, Michael Richards was best known to millions as The Guy Who Used to Play Kramer on Seinfeld, one of the most popular shows in TV history. Now he's known as the mixed-up weirdo who gave us something besides sports and the midterm elections to talk about over Thanksgiving dinners. By now you know the story: A raging Mr. Richards was caught on video camera spewing the N-word and making obscene lynching references at some black hecklers in the audience.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | March 7, 2013
Since some new readers have drifted my way, I thought it might be useful to summarize some of the grammar and usage points that crop up regularly in these parts, particularly the bogus rules and superstitions, sometimes called “zombie rules,” that distract people from real editing. If you want to dissent from any of these points, go ahead. But I will be ready for you.    Fully exploded Unless you are working for an uncommonly primitive and obtuse outfit, or your employer has slipped beyond ratiocination, you should not be observing any of these long-discredited superstitions: No prepositions at the end of sentences.
NEWS
By John E. McIntyre and The Baltimore Sun | April 27, 2012
Posting after midnight will catch a handful of copy editors and insomniacs, my natural audience, but some of the rest of you may overlook things. So I draw your attention to a late-night, early-morning post at which I chime in with Stan Carey on banned words , before, having been wakened at eight o'clock by the plumber coming to call, I go on with a roundup of items for today. Today, I found out from Language Log, has been declared Passive Voice Day . You may want to explore, and perhaps bookmark, Geoffrey Pullum's link to the astonishing number of posts illustrating that language commenters and writing instructors commonly rail against passive constructions without being able to identify correctly what a passive construction is. In addition to incompetent instruction, we are awash in bad information.
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