Passive Voice vs. Active Voice

Passive voice vs. Active voice

Many writers use passive voice without realizing it and knowing what it is. This is a problem because it makes sentences difficult to understand. Passive voice confuses readers as to who or what is doing the action of the sentence. The solution is to use active voice.

In this lesson you’ll learn: what passive voice is, how to recognize it in sentences, and how to correct it and make it active voice.

Let’s start by looking at these two sentences:

“The man ate the sandwich.”
“The sandwich was eaten by the man.”

Does one of them seem unnecessarily wordy and awkwardly phrased? That’s what using the passive voice often does to your writing.

 When you use active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. But when you use passive voice, the subject of the sentence receives the action.

Look again at the first sample sentence. In it, the man (subject) is eating the sandwich (doing the action). The subject is an active participant in what’s going on. This is active voice.

Now look at the second sentence. Here the sandwich is the subject and the man is receiving the action of eating. This is passive voice.

Why is active voice better?
Active voice makes your writing clearer and more concise. Using passive voice can make your writing overly wordy and vague, often resulting in sentences that technically make sense but don’t sound quite right.

There’s also a difference in tone between active and passive voice. Active voice often sounds much stronger and clearer. Meanwhile, passive voice sounds slipperier and more evasive—almost like you’re trying to talk around something rather than addressing it head on.

How to write in active voice
Let’s go back one more time to the man and his sandwich:

“The sandwich was eaten by the man.”

Step 1: Identify the subject of the sentence.

The sandwich was eaten by the man.”

Step 2: Identify the action of the sentence.

“The sandwich was eaten by the man.”

Step 3: Ask who is doing this action?

“The sandwich was eaten by the man.”

Step 4: Rephrase the sentence so the person doing the action is the subject of the sentence:

Then you get: “The man ate the sandwich.”

A quick way to find who or what does the action of a sentence is to look for the words “by the.” What comes after that is usually the subject. Sometimes it’s going to be a little more complicated than this and you might have to use the context of the surrounding sentences to figure out who is doing the action.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that you should always use active voice and never use passive voice. Sometimes passive voice does work better. For example, if the action is more important than who or what is doing that action, and you want to highlight that in your writing, then using passive voice makes more sense. The important thing is to use passive and active voice consciously—know what the effect of using each one will be and which one will most effectively convey what you want to say.

Maud Grauer wrote today’s post. She is new to Dot and Dash and will be working with Erin to write these informative blog posts here and on the Dot and Dash blog, along with other future educational materials. You can email her at Maud@dotanddashllc.com.

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Compliment vs. Complement

compliment vs. complement

Compliment and complement sound the same but are spelled differently, so it’s easy to get the two confused in your writing. In this blog post, we’ll discuss their definitions and learn how to remember the two spellings.

Compliment as a verb means saying something nice. As a noun, it means the nice thing that is said.

Examples
Verb: The rat complimented the mouse’s suspenders.
Noun: The rat’s compliment made the mouse smile.

Complement as a verb means to complete. As a noun, it means something that completes.

Examples
Verb: The mouse’s suspenders complemented his outfit.
Noun: The suspenders were the perfect complement to his outfit.

How to remember the difference
Complement sort of looks like the word complete, and it means to complete.

Think complement = complete.

You can also note that both words have an E in the middle (rather than an I).

Quiz
Fill in the blanks below with compliment or complement. The answers are below.

1. Rupert’s jeweled brooch _______s his look.
2. The expensive car was the _______ to her “perfect” life.
3. Tina _______ed her by saying, “You look hotter than a dead raccoon in the afternoon sun.”
4. Hilda hoped to get an A on the test, which would _______ her semester’s perfect grades.
5. The suitor’s _______ was her favorite part of their date.
Answers:
1. complement 2. complement 3. compliment 4. complement 5. compliment

What are mass nouns?

a guide to mass nouns

Mass nouns, also called “uncountable nouns”  and “noncount nouns,” are substances, objects, and concepts that cannot be divided into separate parts. By their nature, they can only be plural.

Think about emotions. Let’s take happiness, for instance. Happiness exists as a general idea. You can’t break happiness down into its particles. You cannot hold in your hand one happiness or two happinesses. Thus, it is a mass noun.

The same goes with “sand.” There are beaches filled with sand, but you can’t find one sand. However, you can dig your hand into the ground and come up with grains of sand. This illustrates one of the rules with mass nouns.

You explain how much of a mass noun exists by placing a describing word in front of it.

  • a grain of sand
  • a piece of news
  • a gallon of water

Another rule is that English treats mass nouns as if they were singular, even though they are plural. For instance, instead of using the verb “are,” use “is.”

Correct: This juice is delicious.
Incorrect: This juice are delicious
Correct: Greed is dangerous.
Incorrect: Greed are dangerous

And if a verb drops an “s” with plural nouns, it will keep the “s” for mass nouns.

Correct: The cheese tastes yummy.
Incorrect: The cheese taste yummy
Correct: Your jewelry looks expensive.
Incorrect: Your jewelry look expensive.

Types of Mass Nouns
Here are some of the categories mass nouns fall into with examples:

  • weather: rain, snow, sleet, sunshine
  • feelings: anger, happiness, fear, courage
  • liquids: orange juice, tea, water
  • gasses: air, helium, argon
  • states of existence: childhood, sleep, sickness
  • ideas: advice, motivation, existentialism
  • powder: flour, makeup powder, powdered sugar
  • foods: cheese, rice, pudding, butter

Other Examples

  • traffic
  • art
  • chaos
  • currency
  • education
  • furniture
  • information
  • luggage
  • marketing
  • livestock
  • music
  • patriotism
  • power
  • wood

Erin Servais is a book editor, author coach, and founder of Dot and Dash LLC, an author-services company that focuses on women author-entrepreneurs. To learn how she can help you with your next writing project, check out her website.

You can also read her blog about writing here.

Follow Erin on social media:

Twitter: @GrammarParty
Instagram: @dot_and_dash_llc
Facebook: facebook.com/dotanddashllc

Direct Speech vs. Indirect Speech

There are two ways to explain and relay something a person said: direct speech and indirect speech. One quotes speech directly, using the exact words, and the other rephrases what was said.

If you are fluent in English, you probably already use these types of speech without realizing it. But now you know what they’re called. Huzzah!

Direct Speech
Direct speech restates what a person said previously using their exact words, which go inside quotation marks.

  • She said, “I ate the last pickle.”
  • “Go to the store to get more pickles,” Sally told me.
  • Yesterday, Sally’s sister asked, “Will you save a pickle for Sally so she doesn’t get angry?”

Indirect Speech
Indirect speech does not use the exact words spoken. Instead, it rephrases what someone said previously.

  • She said Sally told her not to eat the last pickle.
  • I told Sally yesterday that I wanted to eat the last pickle.
  • I heard Sally ask for another jar of pickles.

Notice that indirect speech often uses the verbs say and tell (and said and told in the past tense).

More Examples
Here are examples of direct and indirect speech when used as a statement, command, and question.

Direct Speech Indirect Speech
Statement “I like jazz music,” Nancy said. I heard that Nancy likes jazz music.
Command “You must get out of bed right now!” her mom said. Her mom told her to get out of bed right now.
Question “Where am I?” Cindy asked me. Cindy asked me where she was.

 

Quiz: State whether each sentence is either direct or indirect speech.

  1. Katie said she named her dog Ferdinand.
  2. I told her she needs to teach the dog to stop barking.
  3. “Ferdinand is cute, but she won’t stop barking!” I said to her.
  4. “Why can’t you get her to be quiet?” I asked.
  5. I heard Katie said she gave up teaching the dog to stop barking.

 

Answers: 1. Indirect; 2. Indirect; 3. Direct; 4. Direct; 5. Indirect

Erin Servais is a book editor and coach of author-entrepreneurs, helping writers through every stage of book creation and after. To learn how she can help you with your next project, check out Dot and Dash LLC or email her at Erin@dotanddashllc.com.

Hair shirt

A hair shirt is as it sounds: a shirt made out of hair. Though they are rarely used today, historically people in some Christian religious orders wore them as a means of penance. The shirts were originally woven with goat hair and were worn next to the skin to keep the wearer in constant discomfort and awareness of the shirt’s presence. (The shirts evolved to contain bits of metal woven with hair. Delightful.)

Today, this item of self-torture survives in the language as a noun that means “one that irritates like a hair shirt” and as an adjective that means “austere and self-sacrificing.”

Here are some examples of hair shirt as a noun:

Uncle Harvey is such a hair shirt. I would rather drink soup from a toilet than listen to another of his “olden days” stories.

Merv thought yoga was a hair shirt until he tried it and enjoyed how limber he felt afterward.

Here are some examples of hair shirt as an adjective:

Carla felt so guilty about murdering her gardener that she chose to live a hair-shirt existence. She gave her belongings to charity and moved to the desert, where she survived by eating spiders and rats.

Getting healthy doesn’t mean living a hair-shirt lifestyle. Merv found vegetables to be delicious, and he got lots of dates from yoga class.