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Archive for the category “Grammar”

4 Ways to Remove Passive Voice from Your Paper

First of all, what is passive voice, and what’s so bad about it?

When a sentence is written with passive voice, it contains words like “were” “are” “is” “had” or “will be.” A sentence written in passive voice isn’t bad, but it doesn’t live up to its potential. By including these words, the writer takes the easy way out. He or she doesn’t have to spend time thinking of interesting or specific verbs, or writing in clear and concise language. It may be a time saver, but it will lead to a more muddled paper. Consider these two sentences:

1. Odysseus was a poor leader, which is shown by his refusal to listen to his men.

2. As a poor leader, Odysseus refused to listen to his men.

Or these two:

1. Women were unable to vote for decades after men were able to do so.

2. While men elected official after official, women dreamed of going to the polls themselves.

In both cases, the second sentence is stronger. In the first case, it is more concise, and in the second, it forced me to write a more interesting phrase.

When I taught elementary school, our coaches instructed us to have funerals for “dead verbs” with our classes. Our students created coffins for “is” and “was” and buried them on school grounds – that’s how strongly they felt about weeding them out of the students’ writing.

You may be looking at your most recent paper and noticing that almost every sentence contains “is” “was” or “were.” But how do you get these nasty, boring verbs out of there? Here are 4 methods to think about:

  1. Choose a different verb.

This is possibly the easiest method for removing dead or passive verbs from your writing. Just look at the sentence and think of a better, more specific verb to use.

Examples:

The street was filled with fruit stands./The street heaved (burst, sagged, etc.) with fruit stands.

Mercutio was the most interesting character in Romeo and Juliet./ Mercutio stood out as the most interesting character in Romeo and Juliet.

The war was long – it lasted 8 years. The war continued for 8 long years.

2. Get rid of “ing”

If you look through your passive sentences, chances are you’ll see quite a few “was”s and “were”s followed by an “ing” verb. Just remove the “ing” and you will have a more active sentence.

Examples:

She was walking home from school./She walked home from school.

The settlers were persecuting the Native Americans. /The settlers persecuted the Native Americans.

The prisoners were dying by the dozens every month./ The prisoners died by the dozens every month.

3. Move your adjective (describing word) before your noun.

Have you ever written a sentence like this? She was beautiful, cold, and unaware of his affections.

It is tempting to use a dead verb preceding a list of adjectives, or even just one adjective. Why not write it like this instead:

The beautiful, cold, and oblivious woman ignored the young man’s affections.

Other examples:

Martin Luther King Jr. was a great leader and a peaceful man who died in 1968. /A great leader and proponent of peace, Martin Luther King Jr. died in 1968.

William Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers of all time and was responsible for changing literature forever. /The brilliant William Shakespeare changed the face of literature forever.

4. Change the order of your sentence.

Sometimes, just switching the subject to the beginning of your sentence will get rid of your nasty passive verb.

Examples:

Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte Bronte./ Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre.

The Jews were put onto cattle cars by the Nazis. /The Nazis forced the Jews onto cattle cars.

The scarf had been left on the table by Margaret./ Margaret left her scarf on the table.

 

If you want to write with greater clarity and specificity, pay special attention to weeding out the dead verbs the next time you revise a paper. Use these four methods to eliminate almost all of them.

Why the ellipsis is your friend…

Have you ever been listening to someone tell a story, and you know there is a point to it, you know it’s coming, but it seems to take forever for the storyteller to get to the point?  Don’t you just wish that you could cut out some of the middle to get to the important parts?  Well, you can!  In your papers, that is.  You can, and you should.

Sometimes, when writing a paper, you will come across a great quote that supports the point you are trying to make in your paper.  The beginning really relates to your point, and the end drives it home as well.  But the middle deviates to another topic.  What do you do? You throw an ellipsis (…) into the middle, and magically have a perfect quote to use.  Just write the beginning of the quote, and in place of all of the throwaway words in the middle, write … Then, continue the quote with the ending you’d like to use.  You can also take out 2 or 3 useless sections by inserting an ellipsis into each section.

Yeah, you may be thinking, but if I include the middle of the quote, it will make my paper longer.  Sure it will, and all of that pointless stuff in the middle made your friend’s story longer, too, but it also turned it into a less than pleasant tale to sit through. Remember, you want your professor to enjoy reading your paper, not just be happy with the length.

 

3 grammar websites you will love

Grammar consists of the nitty-gritty rules on how to write well.  Most of us don’t even know all of the rules, let alone remember to follow them on a consistent basis.  Yet, learning about fun things like how to use a semicolon correctly or how to break a sentence down into its parts can dramatically improve our writing.  Below, find 3 grammar websites that actually make following the rules fun.

The Write Practice Grammar Guide

Written by Liz Bureman, a fellow Denverite, this grammar guide will help you out with questions like when to use affect vs. effect, how to use an ellipses (…) correctly, and when to end a sentence with a preposition.  Each article is short, to the point, and enjoyable to read.

Grammar Girl

Grammar Girl’s tagline is “Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”  That should give you an indication of the tone of the website.  Here, you can find topics such as when to use a comma versus a colon, a National Grammar Day Tale of Love, and word choice posts too numerous to count.  Each article is also available in audio format, for all of you auditory learners out there.

Daily Writing Tips

If you love grammar, you will love this website.  Every single day, they publish a new grammar tip or idea.  You can also look back into the archives for more ideas or to brush up on different grammar topics.  It even includes quizzes on different grammar topics, if you have that much time on your hands.

There you have them – my favorite grammar websites.  Go ahead, try them out.  Just don’t tell anyone. And if you still want someone to proofread your paper, email me.

How not to use the word “they” in a paper

Of all of the grammar mistakes I’ve seen my students make, using the word “they” incorrectly is the most common.

When you are writing an academic paper, NEVER follow a singular subject in the beginning of a sentence with the word “they” in the second part of the sentence.  Here are a few examples of how NOT to use the word “they”:

1. When a student doesn’t understand an assignment, they might just need to hear it in a different way.

2. When a person becomes a victim of sexual assault, they can access many resources.

3. If a goalie wants to effectively block a shot, they should put complete focus on the ball.

Why are these sentences wrong?  

The beginning of the sentence refers to a singular subject.  In the second part of the sentence, the writer refers to that one person as “they”.

Why do students love to do this?  

In many essays and papers, it is considered incorrect to assume one gender or another for a subject.  For example, in the third sentence, the goalie could be a male or a female.  The word “they” could refer to either gender, thus avoiding any sexist stereotyping.  However, “they” is also grammatically incorrect.

How can you correct this mistake?

One method is replacing “they” with “he or she”. This sounds a but awkward at times, but avoids gender stereotyping while maintaining a grammatically correct sentence structure.

In many papers, it seems like we have to repeat “he or she” over and over, making the writing seem a but clumsy or choppy.  In that case, it is just as correct to change the singular subject to a plural one:

If goalies want to effectively block shots, they should put complete focus on the ball.

By changing the subject to a plural word, “goalies,” and modifying the rest of the sentence, the writer can avoid using “he or she” and also have a correctly worded sentence.

If you are editing your paper for grammatical errors, notice how you used the word “they.”  Make sure that anytime you wrote it, you were referring to a plural subject.  If not, use the above hints to change your paper.

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