Search Results

He lapsed into the passive voice

Mark Landler recently published an article in the New York Times under the headline "Where Predecessors Set Moral Standard, Trump Steps Back." Unlike his predecessors, he notes, the current president has rejected the very concept of moral leadership: On Saturday, in his first response to Charlottesville, Mr. Trump condemned the violence "on many sides." Then […]

Comments off

Newspaper alleges passive voice correctly!

Today I came upon something truly rare: a newspaper article about a passive-voice apology that (i) is correct about the apology containing a passive clause, but (ii) stresses that the oft-misdiagnosed passive should not be the thing we focus on and attempt to discourage, and (iii) cites actual linguists in support of the latter view! […]

Comments off

The College Board endorses the passive voice

Yesterday's SAT "question of the day":

Comments (54)

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 […]

Comments (16)

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 […]

Comments (56)

Mid-voice crisis: Beyond active and passive

I've long since accepted that most people use "passive voice" to mean "vague about agency": see "Passive Voice" — 1397-2009 — R.I.P.", 3/12/2009. And I've made my peace with an extra-extended use of the term passive to convey only a vague sense of disapprobation: "'Passive construction' means… nothing at all?", 7/25/2009. But in David Brooks' […]

Comments (35)

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 […]

Comments off

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 […]

Comments off

"Passive voice" in the comics

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

Comments (30)

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 […]

Comments off

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 […]

Comments (33)

"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 […]

Comments (76)

The passives of PricewaterhouseCoopers

While we at Language Log bemoan how often the passive voice is misidentified, and how often passive constructions are wrongly scapegoated, last night's Oscars debacle has provided us with a clearcut case of how agentless passives can serve to obfuscate. The official apology from PricewaterhouseCoopers for the envelope mixup, which led Warren Beatty and Faye […]

Comments (35)