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Has the Word 2003 a bee in the bonnet about the passive voice in its spellcheck?
Thread poster: Narasimhan Raghavan

Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:32
English to Tamil
+ ...
Sep 5, 2011

I use Word 2003. Whenever I do spell checking, I get cautioned when a passive construction is used. The spell check wants me to reconsider the use of passive voice. I get impatient and just ask it to ignore for once. Unfortunately there is no ignore all button. I have to go on ignoring repeatedly only once each time!

What is wrong with passive construction? In fact, during our college days, all the lab records have to be submitted in passive voice only. The instructions were very formal on this point.

After all we are grown up and do not require such sermonizing on the part of the spell checker.

I am curious. Is the passive construction then so bad that it has to be avoided?

Regards,
N. Raghavan


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Tony M  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:02
Member
French to English
+ ...
Avoiding the passive Sep 5, 2011

Generally speaking, in modern EN usage, the passive voice is certainly used a lot less than it once would have been — other than, as you say, in certain specific styles of documents.

Using Word 2003, you ought to be able to click 'ignore all' for this particular grammar 'rule'; you could also simply turn off grammar checking (which is pretty useless at the best of times!) There is also a means of selecting the type of style for your document, which seems to include / exclude certain rules.


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Dave Bindon  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 13:02
Member (2010)
Greek to English
Passive Sep 5, 2011

We're often advised that passive constructions are best avoided, but that guidance is ignored by many.

In Greek, a simple change to the verb ending renders it passive. That makes passive sentences very easy to construct and use, and, therefore, very common. Translating from a language which loves passives into a language which advises against their over-use can be challenging at times, but fun (in a way that only another translator would understand!).


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Tony M  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:02
Member
French to English
+ ...
Couldn't agree more, Dave! Sep 5, 2011

I translate from FR > EN, and it's interesting to see how often usage differs between the 2 languages, with FR using a passive where it sounds awkward in EN, and sometimes vice-versa. Then there are the other constructions where FR uses a 'passive reflexive' form or 'on', which sometimes need to be translated by the passive in EN, though as a point of my own style, I try to avoid it most of the time.

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Gilla Evans  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
Turn it off. Sep 5, 2011

Maybe it's just me but I always turn off the grammar check when I get a new software update. I find it totally irritating, and disagree with it over many constructions. And if you do any kind of creative writing, it is too straitlaced for words. If I want to use the passive voice it is usually for a good reason and I hate nanny software interfering...

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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:32
English to Tamil
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
My basic question is, what is wrong with the passive construction? Sep 5, 2011

Avoiding the spell check feature and other measures are all OK, but I just want to know as to why exactly the Word 2003 spell checker behaves in that manner.

Nor does it recognize the verb, "to effect" (carry out, give effect to). It does not allow me to use "ignore all" nor "take into dictionary" either. It rather suggests that I replace it with "affect", groan...

It is really high-handed on its part and I am not amused.

I just ignore these idiosyncrasies of course by the way.

Regards,
N. Raghavan

[Edited at 2011-09-05 15:32 GMT]

[Edited at 2011-09-05 15:32 GMT]


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
Nothing wrong with it Sep 5, 2011

Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:

Avoiding the spell check feature and other measures are all OK, but I just want to know as to why exactly the Word 2003 spell checker behaves in that manner.

It is really high-handed on its part and I am not amused.



Word is at best a curate's egg (good in parts).

As for "advice" not to use the passive, I ride roughshod over it, and use the passive or active forms as I see fit. There is nothing wrong with judicious use of the passive, and as our colleague notes, some types of text require it. I see it all as part of the greater struggle against what I perceive as a generalised dumbing down of the Queen's English (as she is spoke) in favour of a slow slide down the slippery slope towards US English hegemony...

The notes about language differences in passive use are very pertinent too.

[Edited at 2011-09-05 17:49 GMT]


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Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:02
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
What's wrong with the passive Sep 5, 2011

From a grammatical point of view, there is nothing wrong with the passive, of course. And there are many instances in which the passive is the best choice. But in other instances it is frowned upon as it can lead to an amorphous and obfuscating language in which nobody is ever clearly responsible for anything.

or, putting it in a more active way:

The passive is useful, in its proper place, but several proponents of a clear style (such as George Orwell) advise against overindulging in it, as it can lead to a style better suited to hide information than to reveal it.

The difference, in short, between

"the buck stops here"

and

"errors were made"


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If anyone is neterested Sep 5, 2011

There is actually an option to turn the passive sentence 'rule' on/off. In Word 2003:

- Tools -> Options ...
- Spelling & Gammar tab
- Grammar section -> Settings... button
- Scroll down to the 'Passive sentences' checkbox and uncheck it.

I imagine there is a similar procedure in Word 2007 / 2010.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 18:02
Chinese to English
Ask Language Log Sep 6, 2011

If you want to know why language is so
To Language Log you must go
If you want poetry elegant and true
The Proz forums are not the place for you

"Passive aggression"
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003366.html
"How long have we been avoiding the passive and why?"
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003380.html


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:32
English to Tamil
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
All these discussions about the passive voice remind me of my logic lecturer Sep 6, 2011

Our logic lecturer had an aversion to the use of the phrase, "not only ... but also".

One example of the above use would be "He is not only my brother, but also my friend".

The logic lecturer preferred the use "not only ... as well". He wanted us to write "he is not only my brother, but my friend as well".

So far, so good. But then he went on to heap ridicule on the first phrase. In a sarcastic tone, he talked about a bookish student, who formed the sentence, "Abraham Lincoln was not only a good man but also a bad man" and the logic lecturer laughed here in a mocking manner.

I could not keep quiet. I stood up and opined respectfully, "Abraham Lincoln was not only a good man but a bad man as well".

The logic teacher was not amused and I was shown the door!!

Regards,
N. Raghavan

Phil Hand wrote:

If you want to know why language is so
To Language Log you must go
If you want poetry elegant and true
The Proz forums are not the place for you

"Passive aggression"
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003366.html
"How long have we been avoiding the passive and why?"
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003380.html


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 12:02
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I was once asked to revise a text, removing the passive voice! Sep 6, 2011

A good client seriously asked me, so I agreed to have a look.

It proved impossible. I do not remember exactly what the text was, but it was semi-technical, and there were simply sentences where the subject of the action was unknown or irrelevant.

Expressions like
Houses are selling at lower prices than last year

might get past the grammar checker, but not the logic lecturer.

(Selling what? Do you mean trading houses?)
But the construction is used frequently.

I sometimes find the passive gives a neat, comprehensible sentence where the active voice is clumsy. Then it is undoubtedly preferable.

Avoiding the passive is like so many rules in English - it applies whenever the converse rule does not apply.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 18:02
Chinese to English
The middle is fine Sep 6, 2011

Christine - you're clearly right about this:

"Avoiding the passive is like so many rules in English - it applies whenever the converse rule does not apply."

But you're wrong about the middle use of "sell". (I call it a middle use as a hangover from some Greek grammar I learned many moons ago. I don't know if there's a more common term.)

These phones are selling like hot cakes! - perfectly standard English usage. Sell can mean "to be sold" or "to sell itself".

Here's the necessary reference: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003300.html

On removing passives: there are some fairly straightforward techniques you can use. Second person or semantically broad subjects, for example. The fact that the subject is irrelevant is itself irrelevant: often the gender of a noun is irrelevant, but you still have to put it in in French sentences. Similarly, if you make a decision to avoid passives then you just use whatever grammatical forms are necessary to make sentences work. It's a discipline, slightly odd, but not that hard.


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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 05:02
Spanish to English
IMHO, this is a good feature Sep 6, 2011

I use this feature to make sure that I am not overly using the passive voice. I also translate from a language that uses the passive voice or passive reflexive with great abandon, but English written with too much passive voice, while being grammatically correct, does not flow and is harder to understand.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 12:02
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I know 'houses are selling' is standard usage Sep 6, 2011

Phil Hand wrote:

Christine - you're clearly right about this:

"Avoiding the passive is like so many rules in English - it applies whenever the converse rule does not apply."

But you're wrong about the middle use of "sell". (I call it a middle use as a hangover from some Greek grammar I learned many moons ago. I don't know if there's a more common term.)

These phones are selling like hot cakes! - perfectly standard English usage. Sell can mean "to be sold" or "to sell itself".

Here's the necessary reference: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003300.html



I was just observing that English is not always logical if you want to be pedantic... The phone rang before I had really finished my posting, and I thought it had cancelled itself.

In fact I was probably going to suggest using the construction as a variation on the passive, which CAN be overdone like everything else, but definitely has its uses.


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