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Name: Georganna Hancock
Location: San Diego, California, United States

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To Be or Not Passive

To be or not to be. That is the question, except to editors.  We eliminate "to be" verbs (is, are, was, were, to be, be, being, been) whenever we can.  The worst constructions littering the language are "there is" or "there were" and similar.

"But whyyyy?" some clients whine.  "What's so bad about sentences starting with "there is?"  Here's your answer:  because they are extraneous words and signs of wordiness in the writing in general. Example:

There is alot [sic] of snarkiness going around the Internet these days.
We see a lot of snarkiness on the Internet now. (Better)
Now snarkiness abounds on the Internet. (Even better)

State of being (to be) verbs also crop up unnecessarily as helper verbs. Variations include forms of "to do" "to have." My favorite example:

James had been being a bad boy, but Santa had been good to him anyway.

To my ears, that reads like nails drawn down a blackboard. Screeeee!

"Although James was naughty, Santa still rewarded him" is a slightly more succinct and sophisticated version.  In the context, you might be able to leave out the "still." Or turn the sentence around:  Santa rewarded him, although
James was naughty/a bad boy/bad.  Reversing the phrases is often the cure for passive sentence construction, too. Example:

Most of the damage was done to New Orleans by the flood waters. (Passive)
Flood water damaged New Orleans the most. (Active)
Flood water caused the most damage to New Orleans. (Active)

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2 Comments:

Blogger AnAlaskanGirl said...

I love examples! Thanks!!!

8:02 PM  
Blogger Georganna Hancock M.S. said...

Thanks for the visit, Monica!

10:00 AM  

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