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The College Board endorses the passive voice

Yesterday's SAT "question of the day":

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The gentle passive voice

Jonathan Coulton, "Soft Rocked By Me", 11/21/2008: (The relevant part of the song starts about 1:00 in, or use this link, since time offsets don't work in YouTube embedding. But Coulton's pre-song explanation is also part of the package: "… ladies like a sensitive man — a little bit — but you don't want to […]

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The aggrieved passive voice

This afternoon, John Baker posted to the American Dialect Society's listserv (ADS-L) the following note: Mark Liberman recently wrote in Language Log that, for everyone except linguists and a few exceptionally old-fashioned intellectuals, what "passive voice" now means is "construction that is vague as to agency". Disturbingly, a short piece by Nancy Franklin in the […]

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Kudos to Shaun and #passivevoiceday

Let the record show that in the post advertising Passive Voice Day 2012 on Shaun's Blog (April 27), which was naturally crying out to be written entirely in the passive voice, the writer, shaunm, has not made a single slip. Every single transitive verb in his post is in the passive. (There is one intransitive […]

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Passive voice wrongly accused yet again

Tom Maguire, on a blog called JustOneMinute, attempts to fisk the arrest affidavit for George Zimmerman (the man in Sanford, Florida, who shot the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin). Mention is made of "a lack of self-confidence from the prosecution, which switches to the passive voice at a crucial moment in the action." Uh-oh! Passive […]

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"Passive voice" in the comics

Panels two and three (of six) from David Malki's most recent Illustrated Jocularity, "The Wish of the Starhorse":

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For the "passive voice" files

A letter to the public editor of the NYT, in the "Week in Review" section yesterday, from Dave Bruce of Hoboken, began: Crediting two bloggers doesn't justify copying and pasting the words of a third. The words were clearly not Maureen Dowd's, and even the punctuation was the same as Josh Marshall's. [Language Log discussion […]

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Passive voice: two out of three isn't good enough

David Alpert ("Excessive passive voice, linguistic detachment observed in Culpeper road fatality", 3/23/2009) complains about Martin Weil's lede in the Washington Post: Four people ranging in age from 19 to 21 were killed early yesterday in Culpeper County, Va., when their car collided with a vehicle that was going the wrong way, Virginia State Police […]

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"Passive Voice" — 1397-2009 — R.I.P.

Passive voice is a grammatical term whose first use in English, according to the OED, was about 600 years ago: a1450 (a1397) Prol. Old Test. in Bible (Wycliffite, L.V.) (Cambr. Mm. II. 15) xv. 57 A participle of a present tens either preterit, of actif vois eithir passif, mai be resoluid into a verbe of […]

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'Concern troll' passives

You may have noticed that in a recent Washington Post blog post Alexandra Petri says "Concern trolls thrive on passive constructions the way vultures thrive on carcasses." I have briefly commented at Lingua Franca on the truly strange vulture metaphor and the whole cultural phenomenon of concern trolling. But this is Language Log, and you […]

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The English passive: an apology

Listen, I need to apologise to thirty or forty of you (I don't really know how many). I'm really sorry. I've wronged you. Mea culpa. You remember all those great examples you sent me of people alleging use of the passive voice and getting it wrong? Well, I have now completed a paper using many […]

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One more misidentified passive (can you bear it?)

You know, people keep telling me that I shouldn't blame Strunk & White for the way so many Americans are clueless about identifying passive clauses. Others tell me I'm being prescriptive: I should let people use the word 'passive' however they want. (And you can, of course; you can use it to mean "box containing […]

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Rewriting Wikipedia in the passive?

Matt Cherett on Buzzfeed said: "Tonight, my friend Frank sent me a link to the Wikipedia entry for RHOBH star Kim Richards, which he'd just rewritten entirely in the passive voice, making it nearly unreadable and, at the same time, infinitely better." He supplied a screenshot. But the spoof rewriting, supposed to be in the […]

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Journalism 101: a passive fact-check

A furious Daniel Schwammenthal at The Commentator excoriates The Economist for accusing the Israeli government of being delusional and paranoid. Asking rhetorically why there continues to be conflict between Israel and the Palestinians according to The Economist’s view, Schwammenthal adds a linguistic element to his political critique: "Violent clashes and provocations erupted whenever the peace […]

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Passive-aggressive maybe, but not passive

You're the prime minister of Australia. (Well, you're not, actually, but this is my little rhetorical way of plunging you imaginatively in medias res. I want you to imagine that you're the prime minister of Australia.) Your foreign minister is a former prime minister that you ousted from the leadership in 2010, and now a […]

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