#1 – VERBS – WEAK PASSIVES

RESTORE BY NUMBERS

I provide a passage from a master that has been vandalized (by me) at the numbered locations.  You restore the original. 

THE CRIME:

In the morning Mrs Collard was buried (1) by them.  There was no burial ground at hand but they were shown by the Malay headman (2) where the grave could be dug (3), in a corner of the compound, near a rubbish heap.  Two coolies were got by the sergeant (4) and a shallow grave was dug (5); Mrs Collard was lowered (6) into it covered by a blanket, and a little out of the Prayer Book was read by Mrs Horsefall (7).  Then the blanket was taken away (8) because it could not be spared (9), and the earth was filled in.  A carpenter was found by Jean (10), and a little wood cross was nailed together (11) for them, and payment was refused (12) . . .

Clue:

A verb in the passive voice uses some form of the verb “to be”, such as “was”, “were”, and “be”, combined with a past participle, such as “buried”.  Passive verbs are usually weak verbs.  The subjects do not act; they are acted upon.  The subject, “Mrs. Collard”, has the action performed upon it, often followed by the true subject in a “by” phrase, such as “by them”.

Copy and paste the passage elsewhere in order to edit it.  Then check E.J.’s comments below.

A Tip:

Never use the passive where you can use the active. – George Orwell

THE ORIGINAL (Nevil Shute in “A Town Like Alice”):

In the morning they buried (1) Mrs Collard.  There was no burial ground at hand but the Malay headman showed them (2) where they could dig (3) the grave, in a corner of the compound, near a rubbish heap.  The sergeant got (4) two coolies and they dug (5) a shallow grave; they lowered (6) Mrs Collard into it covered by a blanket, and Mrs Horsefall read (7) a little out of the Prayer Book.  Then they took away (8) the blanket because they could not spare (9) that, and the earth was filled in.  Jean found (10) a carpenter who nailed (11) a little wooden cross together for them, and refused (12) payment . . .

E.J.’s Comments:

Nevil Shute uses the passive voice only once: ” . . . The earth was filled in.”  No doubt he used it deliberately.  Perhaps he wanted no one to take responsibility for filling in the grave.  Perhaps he wanted to stress the finality of the act.

There is a “was” in the sentence “There was no burial ground . . .”  It is NOT used passively.  “There was” is sometimes called a sentence starter, and if used sparingly (say, once in ten thousand words), it can be effective.

Bonus Tip: Note the rhythm of the passage – it’s very noticeable if you read it aloud.  The subjects and verbs propel the action:  “They” do this; “he” does that; “she” does another thing.  The subjects act.

Advertisements

About EJ Lavoie

Writer and independent publisher with website www.WhiskyJackPublishing.ca
This entry was posted in RESTORE BY NUMBERS, WRITING and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s