Friday, November 18, 2011

Common Problems (Part 6 of 50)

More on the active voice vs. the passive voice. Some writers get so caught up in avoiding the passive voice that they refuse to use state-of-being verbs such as is and was. In a large writers conference, one prominent writer yelled, "I hate to be verbs."

She misunderstood to-be verbs and assumed they were only helping verbs (copula) in the passive voice.

State-of-being verbs are not the passive voice, although they are weak. I can think of no more natural way to write the following sentence: Even though it was October, the grass was green. (Yes, I used two state-of-being verbs). I could have written, Even though October had arrived. . . That's where personal preference comes into writing. But "grass was green" causes no problems to understand. It's brief and describes the status of a lawn.

I sometimes use state-of-being verbs,
but I'm aware of their purpose.
I distinguish them from the passive voice.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! At a writers' conference, an agent flipped through my sample chapters and gave me a lecture on passive voice. She said, "I see 'is' and 'was' in here, so you'd have to get rid of passive voice." None of those were passive voice, so I dismissed her criticism. (She didn't actually read it--just scanned it for certain words.)

    Thanks for validating my opinion that sometimes those state-of-being verbs are best and are not passive voice!

  2. So many writers and agents get trapped by listening to someone who speaks with authority make such pronouncements. Listeners repeat what they've heard without asking questions.

    Question every writing authority. Question me.


What are your thoughts?