Active Writing

Copyright 2018, Barbara Nevins Taylor

ACTIVE WRITING

Active writing allows you to say what you mean in a clear concise way with colorful verbs that paint a picture.

In 1946, the writer George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and 1984,  complained about politicians and others who use fuzzy language to hide the truth.

George Orwell.png

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs,” Orwell wrote.

In his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language set out six rules for clear writing.  “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print; Never use a long word where a short one will do; If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out; Never use the passive where you can use the active; Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent; Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.” – George Orwell

How do we write a clear, direct sentence?

We make sure the subject does the action.

What does that mean?

Put the subject before the verb and the object.

Active sentence: Subject-Verb-Object

The verb determines action

Good

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster defended President Trump and denied he leaked classified information to the Russians.

Not So Good

Allegations that President Trump revealed classified information to the Russians were denied by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.

Passive Verbs Drag Down A Sentence

You create a passive verb when you make the subject the object of the action.

Passive Sentence

The batter was struck out by C.C. Sabbathia with a fast ball.

Active Sentence

Pitcher C.C. Sabbathia threw a fast ball to strike out the batter.

Colorful verbs that tell a story and convey action create strong sentences.

Weak passive verbs make mushy sentences. You want to use action-filled verbs.

The verb to be does not convey action.

So we try avoid using: to be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been

EXAMPLES:

1.

Passive
The roads were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey was responsible for the destruction of the roads.

Active

Hurricane Hermine destroyed the roads.

2.

Passive

The goalie crouched low, reached out his stick, and sent the rebound away from the mouth of the net.

Active

The goalie swept out his stick, and hooked the rebound away from the mouth of the net.

3.

Passive 

The fly ball was caught by Aaron Judge before it topped the wall.

Active 

Aaron Judge caught the fly ball before it topped the wall.

4.

Passive

The legislation was sent to Congress by the president.

Active

The president sent the legislation to Congress.

or 

The president sent Congress the legislation.

5.

Passive

Victims of Hurricane Harvey were airlifted by helicopter and brought to the hospital.

Active

A helicopter airlifted Hurricane Harvey victims and rushed them to the hospital.

or

A helicopter airlifted flood victims and rushed them to the hospital.

6.

Passive 

Carolina is responsible for monitoring and balancing the budgets for the journalists.

Carolina monitors and balances the budgets

or

Carolina monitors and balances budgets.

Use the passive voice when you want to emphasize the receiver of an action, not the actor.

Example:

Many Long Beach residents were forced to leave the beautiful beach area to escape the hurricane.

Use strong, colorful verbs

Example:

Violate instead of in violation

Resisted instead of was resistant

Avoid Passive Phrases Like These:

Have been

Had been passive

GERUNDS

A gerund acts like a verb and a noun. You form a gerund by adding –ing to the end of a verb:

Examples:

run, running
play, playing

A gerund describes action or a state of being.
Grammarians consider gerunds a lovely way to write.

But in ACTIVE writing a gerund can slow down a sentence.

Examples:

1.

The Mets are feeling like losers at this point in the season.

Better

The Mets feel like losers at this point in the season.

2.

Fans are wondering if the Jets will be losing games all season.

Better

Fans wonder if the Jets will lose games all season.

3.

Nets players are surprising their new coach with their driving ambition.

Better

Nets players surprised their new coach with their drive and ambition.

4.

We sat up all night reading.

Better

We read all night.

or

We sat up and read all  night.

6.

I like to go jeeping in the woods.

Better

I live to ride my jeep in the woods.

But gerunds can work when you talk about continuous action.

Example:

You might tell someone:

We jumped over puddles last night.

But if it continued to rain:

We spent the week jumping over puddles because of the constant rain.

CLUNKY WORDS AND PHRASES

 Some words and phrases make sentences fuzzy. 

Currently
Due to
Prior to
In an effort to
For the purpose of
In order to
Is of the opinion that
Due to the fact that
In the near future
At this point in time
During my time
Subsequent
Affinity For
Am Willing

The English-Zone.com created this excellent chart.

PRESENT PERFECT, PAST PERFECT and FUTURE PERFECT
Passive form:
have/has been + past participle
had been + past participle
Active: Present Perfect
I have mailed the gift.
Jack has mailed the gifts.
Passive: Present Perfect
The gift has been mailed by me.
The gifts have been mailed by Jack.
Active: Past Perfect
Steven Spielberg had directed the movie.
Penny Marshall had directed those movies.
Passive: Past Perfect
The movie had been directed by Steven Spielberg.
The movies had been directed by Penny Marshall.
Active: Future Perfect
John will have finished the project next month.
They will have finished the projects before then.
Passive: Future Perfect
The project will have been finished by next month.
The projects will have been finished before then.
FUTURE TENSES
Passive forms: will + be + past participle
is/are going to be + past participle
Active: Future with WILL
I will mail the gift.
Jack will mail the gifts.
Passive: Future with WILL
The gift will be mailed by me.
The gifts will be mailed by Jack.
Active: Future with GOING TO
I am going to make the cake.
Sue is going to make two cakes.
Passive: Future with GOING TO
The cake is going to be made by me.
Two cakes are going to be made by Sue.
PRESENT / FUTURE MODALS
The passive form follows this pattern:
modal + be + past participle
Active: WILL / WON’T (WILL NOT)
Sharon will invite Tom to the party.
Sharon won’t invite Jeff to the party.
(Sharon will not invite Jeff to the party.)
Passive: WILL / WON’T (WILL NOT)
Tom will be invited to the party by Sharon.
Jeff won’t be invited to the party by Sharon.
(Jeff will not be invited to the party by Sharon.)
Active: CAN / CAN’T (CAN NOT)
Mai can foretell the future.
Terry can’t foretell the future.
(Terry can not foretell the future.)
Passive: CAN / CAN’T (CAN NOT)
The future can be foretold by Mai.
The future can’t be foretold by Terry.
(The future can not be foretold by Terry.)
Active: MAY / MAY NOT
Her company may give Katya a new office.
The lazy students may not do the homework.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Her company might give Katya a new office.
The lazy students might not do the homework.
Passive: MAY / MAY NOT
Katya may be given a new office by her company.
The homework may not be done by the lazy students.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Katya might be given a new office by her company.
The homework might not be done by the lazy students.
Active: SHOULD / SHOULDN’T
Students should memorize English verbs.
Children shouldn’t smoke cigarettes.
Passive: SHOULD / SHOULDN’T
English verbs should be memorized  by students.
Cigarettes shouldn’t be smoked  by children.
Active: OUGHT TO
Students ought to learn English verbs.
(negative ought to is rarely used)
Passive: OUGHT TO
English verbs ought to be memorized by students.
Active: HAD BETTER / HAD BETTER NOT
Students had better practice English every day.
Children had better not drink whiskey.
Passive: HAD BETTER / HAD BETTER NOT
English had better be practiced every day by students.
Whiskey had better not be drunk by children.
Active: MUST / MUST NOT
Tourists must apply for a passport to travel abroad.
Customers must not use that door.
Passive: MUST / MUST NOT
A passport to travel abroad must be applied for.
That door must not be used by customers.
Active: HAS TO / HAVE TO
She has to practice English every day.
Sara and Miho have to wash the dishes every day.
DOESN’T HAVE TO/ DON’T HAVE TO
Maria doesn’t have to clean her bedroom every day.
The children don’t have to clean their bedrooms every day.
Passive: HAS TO / HAVE TO
English has to be practiced every day.
The dishes have to be washed by them every day.
DOESN’T HAVE TO/ DON’T HAVE TO
Her bedroom doesn’t have to be cleaned every day.
Their bedrooms don’t have to be cleaned every day.
Active: BE SUPPOSED TO
I am supposed to type the composition.
I am not supposed to copy the stories in the book.
Janet is supposed to clean the living room.
She isn’t supposed to eat candy and gum.
They are supposed to make dinner for the family.
They aren’t supposed to make dessert.
Passive: BE SUPPOSED TO
The composition is supposed to be typed by me.
The stories in the book are not supposed to be copied.
The living room is supposed to be cleaned by Janet.
Candy and gum aren’t supposed to be eaten by her.
Dinner for the family is supposed to be made by them.
Dessert isn’t supposed to be made by them.
PAST MODALS
The past passive form follows this pattern:
modal + have been + past participle
Active: SHOULD HAVE / SHOULDN’T HAVE
The students should have learned the verbs.
The children shouldn’t have broken the window.
Passive: SHOULD HAVE / SHOULDN’T HAVE
The verbs should have been learned by the students.
The window shouldn’t have been broken by the children.
Active: OUGHT TO
Students ought to have learned the verbs.
(negative ought to is rarely used)
Passive: OUGHT TO
The verbs ought to have been learned by the students.
Active: BE SUPPOSED TO (past time)
I was supposed to type the composition.
I wasn’t supposed to copy the story in the book.
Janet was supposed to clean the living room.
She wasn’t supposed to eat candy and gum.
Frank and Jane were supposed to make dinner.
They weren’t supposed to make dessert.
Passive: BE SUPPOSED TO (past time)
The composition was supposed to be typed  by me.
The story in the book wasn’t supposed to be copied.
The living room was supposed to be cleaned by Janet.
Candy and gum weren’t supposed to be eaten by her.
Dinner was supposed to be made by them.
Dessert wasn’t supposed to be made by them.
Active: MAY / MAY NOT
That firm may have offered Katya a new job.
The students may not have written the paper.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
That firm might have offered Katya a new job.
The students might not have written the paper.
Passive: MAY / MAY NOT
Katya may have been offered a new job by that firm.
The paper may not have been written by the students.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Katya might have been offered a new job by that firm.
The paper might not have been written by the students.

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