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					Avoiding the passive voice

   Overusing adverbs
          The passive voice
•The passive voice is the form of
a transitive verb whose subject
receives the action:

       The ball was thrown.

•The active voice is the form of a
transitive verb whose subject
performs the action:

       John threw the ball.

•In English, the passive verb is
always formed with an auxiliary
verb, a form of the verb “to be.”

       The clothes were ironed.
       The dog was groomed.
       The house was built.
“I’ll make my report as if I told a
story, for I was taught as a child on
my homeworld that Truth is a matter
of the imagination. The soundest fact
may fail or prevail in the style of its
telling: like that singular organic jewel
of our seas, which grows brighter as
one woman wears it and, worn by
another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts
are no more solid, coherent, round, and
real than pearls are. But both are
--Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of

“Early this morning, 1 January 2021,
three minutes after midnight, the last
human being to be born on earth was
killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of
Buenos Aires, aged twenty-five years,
two months and twelve days. If the
first reports are to be believed,
Joseph Ricardo died as he had lived.”

       --P.D. James, The Children of
         Actually, adverbs are pretty
            unnecessary, usually
•   Actually, totally, absolutely, completely,
    continually, constantly, continuously, literally,
    pretty, really, little, unfortunately, very,
    ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally, at
    last: these words suck the meaning out of

     –    “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she
          was now staring was clutched in the pale hand
          of an enormous albino.” (The Da Vinci Code, Dan

•   Softly, loudly, swiftly, slowly: use “said”
    modifiers sparingly

     –    She said softly, or she whispered? Murmured?
     –    He said loudly, or he shouted? Yelled?
     –    She said swiftly, or she blurted? Snapped?
          Ordered? Begged?
     –    He said slowly, or he mused? Faltered?

•   Find a strong verb, and don’t dilute it with an

           He walked slowly across the room.
    He     stumbled?
           She ran swiftly toward them. She
         Write muscular prose
•   Avoid weasel words: almost, half,

     –   She half-smiled at him.
     –   She almost wished he would just give up
         and leave.
     –   “Still, she did feel rather abandoned.”
         (Out, Matsuo Kirino, in translation)

•   Use strong, clear, concise language

    Instead of: A period of unfavorable
    weather set in.
    Write: It rained every day for a week.

    Instead of: He showed satisfaction as
    he took possession of his reward.
    Write: He grinned as he pocketed the
          --Strunk and White, Elements of

•   “As to the adjective, when in doubt,
    strike it out.”
     Rewriting exercise
      Dick walked slowly across the lobby.
The elevator door was held open by the
bodyguard. He quickly brought out his gun to
aim it at Dick’s chest. Dick could see how his
finger lightly pressed the trigger.
Surprisingly, the clothes of the bodyguard
were formal.
      “Going up?” the bodyguard said to Dick
with a nasty curl of his upper lip.
      Dick cautiously entered the elevator,
watching the gun waver slightly in the
bodyguard’s hand. Dick put his hands up
above his head. “Sadly,” he said, “it seems I
have very little choice.”
     Dick strolled across the marble-pillared lobby
toward the brass cage elevator. The bodyguard, in
a lavender tuxedo with matching cummerbund,
stood holding the door open with one meaty hand,
pointing a black revolver at Dick’s chest with the
     As Dick approached, the bodyguard sneered
at his ragged tee shirt and stained jeans. His
finger tightened on the trigger. “Going up?”
     Dick sidled into the elevator, keeping his eye
on the wavering muzzle of the gun, and his hands
above his head. “Do I have a choice?”

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