Word Passive Voice Highlighting Revisited: Now for Word 2003

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13 Responses

  1. Douglas says:

    I was inspired to comment merely because the Fonz was referenced.


    You inspired me to comment merely by referencing the Fonz.


  2. Stephanie says:

    GREAT tip. Maybe link from here to the 2007 article?

  3. ProfessorWalrus says:

    “The Fonz was standing against the wall.” “The Fonz stood against the wall.” are both active. In both situations ‘The Fonz’ is the one doing the action. Neither of them are passive, at all.

  4. Dustin says:

    It’s not about who is doing the action, I think, but about what the action is. In the first, the verb is “to be”; it tells us something about the way Fonzie is. The second tells us what he’s doing.

  5. Dustin says:

    Stephanie: Added the link. I meant to do it when I was writing the post but I forgot.

  6. Lisa Hendrix says:

    For Word on Mac OS X:

    Use the directions for Word 2007 to highlight the phrases you want. If you have trouble getting the highlighting to “stick,” try changing the highlight color while the Find window is still open (and before clicking on the document itself).

    To remove the highlighting, simply set highlight color to None, then Select All (Command + A) and hit the highlight button (in the Formatting Toolbar).

  7. Hoover says:

    Both these examples are active voice. They have different but equally valid meanings. The Fonz was standing against the wall is past continuous (imperfect tense). It allows you to create a context for other events. (e.g. ‘when Joanie arrived, the Fonz was standing against the wall’ means he was already there when she arrived).

    The Fonz stood against the wall is past tense. It’s ambiguous on its own, but clear in context (e.g. ‘when Joanie arrived, the Fonz stood against the wall’ means he wasn’t standing against the wall when she arrived but did so soon after).

  8. Chelsea Saunders says:

    Are you an idiot? “He was standing against the wall,” is not passive voice. It’s past progressive. Passive voice uses past participles. “Standing” is a present participles, not a past participle. Passive voice would be like, “He was stood against the wall,” stupidly implying that he is paralyzed or something and some other person leaned him up against the wall.

    • Dustin Wax says:

      Yes, I am an idiot.

      That said, I’m starting to think that the passive voice doesn’t exist outside the famous example, “mistakes were made”. There is a quite well-known take-down of Strunk and White which makes the case that not a single of their passive voice examples are actually passive voice.

      Oh well.

      Here’s the thing: phrases that de-emphasize the agent are boring. Phrases where the subject passively receives the action are boring. Phrases that describe the subject’s behaviors as a state of their being, rather than as an action, are boring. “He was standing” — standing is a thing he was, not an action he did; “he stood” is much more active and interesting.

      Call it — and me — what you will. The bottom line is that if you’re using “is” statements in every sentence, you’re boring the crap out of me. And probably most of your other, non-me readers as well. Even though Strunk and White were idiots.

  9. Chelsea Saunders says:

    The point of the past progressive is that it gives background information before the action starts. “I was doing my homework when my friend called.”

  10. A College Student says:

    wow people. Seriously this is an article on how to filter passive voice, not a blog for OCD English freaks. Thank you for the article Dustin, its a great help to me that i now know how to filter passive words from my essay writing. Obviously if you are searching for a way to filter passive you know what passive is. Therefore you are not too awfully confused by the two sentences. I dont really know what to say here other than Thank You to the writer of the article and “wow” to the detractors. Maybe you are all the undergrad students grading my papers and have nothing better to do than troll the internet and show off your highly superior English knowledge.

  1. August 12, 2008

    […] (Need help discovering passive writing? The Writer’s Technology Companion wrote a tutorial to highlight passive writing in Microsoft Word 2003.) […]

  2. October 17, 2008

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