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Author Topic: Help With Self/Peer Reviewing  (Read 7650 times)
Lutrina Lontra
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« on: April 04, 2011, 12:19:09 PM »

Good grief, Justin, I apologize profusely for this. Evidently I'm still fuzzy minded from this cold. In an effort to reply to your query, I seem to have hit the wrong button and replaced your questions with my reply. I'm really sorry for this. The answer is given below, and you can edit this text to restate your questions.

--Altivo

« Last Edit: April 04, 2011, 04:13:19 PM by Altivo » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2011, 04:15:24 PM »

1. Your definition of passive voice is correct. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of confusion on the subject, probably because US schools aren't really teaching grammar any more. Quite possibly the reviewer meant something else when they used the words "passive voice." You might ask them for examples.

2. I agree with you about varied sentence structures and longer sentences. Again, unfortunately, many of today's readers are only familiar with direct simple sentences and lack the patience and exposure to appreciate more. It's our job to expand their horizons, so long as we do it with correct grammar and syntax. You might be interested to know that in our library's adult book club, some readers are currently complaining that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is "too hard" for them to read. Apparently Twain's use of complex sentences and descriptive language confounds them.

3. No matter how many times you read something over, you will find things to change. I try to give a piece at least three readings, with a good resting time and reading other stuff between each reading. By "a good" time off between readings, I mean several days at least and ideally more than a week. I do not use spelling or grammar checkers, because most of the "mistakes" they find are not errors at all, but simply exceed their feeble understanding. Grin

(See my note and apology above. I'm afraid you have some editing to do here.)
« Last Edit: April 04, 2011, 05:11:21 PM by Altivo » Logged

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Lutrina Lontra
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« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2011, 05:00:46 PM »

1. Alright. I'm not really sure what else to do beyond that. I can definitely see how it's easy to mislabel things as passive voice. I might do some looking up online (besides Wikipedia, which basically said what I did).

2. So... am I in the right for varying my sentences? And what exactly are complex sentences? I probably know the answer but just don't know they're called complex sentences, hehe. >///<

3. I agree with you there. I've read through some of my stories many, many times and still found things to change. I also don't use spelling or grammar checkers for the same reason, though I'll occasionally run something through MS Word since it does occasionally catch glaring mistakes that I miss in read throughs.

And I accept your apology, though I have no idea what I typed so I'm gonna come back to it later when I have time to sit down and reiterate my thoughts. XD
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« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2011, 05:09:58 PM »

I suspect that what is being mislabeled as "passive voice" is actually one of the past tenses that begins with "He had" or "He did." These can be overused, but are also needed on occasions to express very specific concepts.

Complex sentences are sentences with more than one clause, usually an added subordinate clause introduced by words like "which" or "that." Compound sentences are multiple complete sentences joined by "and" or "but." Complex sentences are good, in my opinion, provided they aren't overly complex or confusing. Compound sentences are not usually recommended.
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Lutrina Lontra
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« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2011, 07:04:12 PM »

Yes! A phrase like "I had done this," I realized earlier today, isn't passive voice because the subject is still the agent of the verb. But I think it'd be more direct to just say "I did this." Either way, it's past tense, right?

Ugh, I'm gonna have to do some studying on that or something. Now that I think about it, nowhere in my K-12 education were we taught about sentence structure. Kinda wish they had.
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« Reply #5 on: April 04, 2011, 07:26:36 PM »

That's one of the elements of classical education that has been thrown out the window with the bathwater, so to speak. For a quick explanation, see Wikipedia for "complex sentence" and "past tense."

English generally has six past tenses:

"I did this." <== simple past, also called preterit (action complete, may happen again)
"I have done this." <==perfect, also called present perfect (action complete, probably final)
"I was doing this." <==imperfect, also called past progressive (action interrupted or incomplete)
"I have been doing this." <==perfect progressive (ongoing action initiated in the past)
"I had done this." <==pluperfect, also called past perfect (competed event that precedes another past event)
"I had been doing this." <== pluperfect progressive (past action on which another past event was superimposed)

These convey different shades of meaning and really can't be substituted one for another. None of them are passive as such.

And if you think this is unnecessarily complicated, you should be aware that some languages have twelve or more past tenses all of which have different meanings.
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Lutrina Lontra
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« Reply #6 on: April 04, 2011, 08:12:52 PM »

*Blinkblinks* o_O

Alright, I guess I get the gist of it. Stupid as this sounds, now I'm trying to remember how this applies to fiction writing, hehe...
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« Reply #7 on: April 04, 2011, 08:31:50 PM »

What those things are called has little to do with fiction writing. But my reason for listing them was to show that they are not "passive" constructions, and that each has a finer shade of meaning that may be exactly what is needed in a given situation.

As a native speaker (and reader, I hope) of English, you already are familiar with all of these and instinctively know when to use them. The problem with our past tenses is that it can sound dully repetitive if you use "had" or "was" too much. Thus the challenge to say exactly what you mean without making it sound stiff and stuffy.

The same is true for passive. We can't say "never use it," because there are times when it is the best and even the shortest way to state the needful. But when we overuse passive, the whole narrative starts to sound lifeless.
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« Reply #8 on: April 04, 2011, 08:53:02 PM »

I have a problem with sounding too passive too. I think it's helpful to draw a distinction between grammatically passive and passive-sounding, which is where I tripped up ( see http://forum.furrag.com/index.php/topic,685.0.html ). The latter is the important one. Sounding passive is often a result of using the passive or past perfect, and as Altivo said, if the verb "to be" is involved then it's sometimes an indicator of something that could be phrased more actively.

I found this brief article by C J Cherryh which has a number of decent points:

http://www.cherryh.com/www/advice.htm

In particular:


1) am, is, are, was, were, being, be, been....combined with 'by' or with an actor implied but not stated. [The window was broken by a stray ball. The window got broke. The window was broken that afternoon.] Such structures are passives. In general, limit passive verb use to one or two per book. The word 'by' followed by a person is an easy flag for passives. [Active is the alternative to passive [let's not talk about Sanskrit and Middle Voice here!] The sentence about the window would read: A stray ball broke the window.] Common reason for using a passive? To avoid saying who or what did it. Don't trust people who use a lot of passives. Alternative reason: to focus attention on the window rather than the ball, the result rather than the action. There's artistic reason for passives, but they're baroque, convolute, and rob the sentence of factual information. Limit your use of them...ration them!]

2) am, is, are, was, were, being, be, been....combined with an adjective. 'He was sad as he walked about the apartment.'> 'He moped about the apartment.' A single colorful verb is stronger than any was + adjective; but don't slide to the polar opposite and overuse colorful verbs. There are writers that vastly overuse the 'be' verb; if you are one, fix it. If you aren't one---don't, because *over*fixing it will commit the next error.
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« Reply #9 on: April 05, 2011, 01:51:30 AM »

The real kicker is when you start using the subjunctive or conditional mode properly and readers (or sometimes even editors) tell you that you've made a grammatical error because they've never heard it before:

"If I were you..." <==conditional (not was)
"Would that he live so long..." <==optative (not lives)
"She demands that I be silent..." <==subjunctive (not am)

Nineteenth century writers, and a few in the twentieth century as well, have used these shades of meaning precisely. Today, alas, they are being lost. You'll never hear them on television or in the movies unless it's Shakespeare. But if you read Tolkien, Faulkner, Austen, or Hardy they are fairly easy to find.
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« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2011, 04:13:06 AM »

Nineteenth century writers, and a few in the twentieth century as well, have used these shades of meaning precisely. Today, alas, they are being lost. You'll never hear them on television or in the movies unless it's Shakespeare. But if you read Tolkien, Faulkner, Austen, or Hardy they are fairly easy to find.
What?! I don't believe you. I hear this used on blogs and YouTube and everyday speech all the time (though some of them admittedly not American). I use it all the time. I can see the optative maybe, juuust maybe, becoming obsolete, but English would be an idiot to drop conditionals and subjunctives. So long as hypothetical scenarios exist, we will have need for those, and removing them would severely cripple our ability to communicate.

@Jacky: Nice article. I thought the who/whom issue was well explained. I can't remember how it was taught back then, but once you get it into your head that WHO = person that acts, and WHOM = person being acted upon, you can never dislodge it, ever. (Also, at the risk of appearing elitist (which I am not), I think learning a foreign language can remove these ambiguities about grammar. The Romance languages still preserve almost all the noun cases from Latin, so the relationships between different sentence elements are crystal-clear. The Germanic languages do the same, and are moreover closely related to English, so learning the difference between German "wer, wen, wem" makes it easier to remember the related "who, whom, whom" cases in English.)
« Last Edit: April 05, 2011, 04:29:56 AM by Reiter » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: April 05, 2011, 10:33:25 AM »

It's true, Reiter. The concept of conditional or subjunctive will not go away, of course. But the differences in verb conjugation that clearly express it are fading away in common English usage. This is more evident in colloquial American usage than in formal legal writing perhaps, but it is clearly happening. Even in Shakespeare's time, the subjunctive could only be clearly expressed in a few specific formations, and mostly where the verb "to be" is involved.

To the average speaker in America, the difference between "If I were you" and "If I was you" is that the former sounds snobbish and elitist. And now that schools don't teach these details, and people don't read authors who observe them, the change will be even faster.

I assure you that most Americans, even with college degrees, can't tell you exactly when "whom" is correct rather than "who." It's sad, but very true. Many don't understand the distinction between "You and I" and "You and me," let alone combinations that are almost always wrong such as "me and him."

You're right of course that studying another language helps to clarify these details, at least in some cases, though even in that case, most language study now begins at the spoken level and only gets into the mechanics of grammar at a very advanced stage.
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« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2011, 05:05:03 PM »

Okay... this is the point where, if this were a movie, I would be staggering backwards to the door, eyes wide and arm swinging wildly behind me, and I would be saying, "No... this can't be. I refuse to... this CANNOT be!" But this is no movie and we are mature types here, immune to incredulity. So I will instead maintain quite stubbornly that my reality is right and yours is wrong, la-la-la, stick my fingers in my ears, la-la-la, until someone hits me in the head with a sledgehammer. Bonk.

Failing that, I suppose I could always hide behind a facade of imagined superiority, meeting every such "correction" with a condescending retort of, "Hahaha... are you serious? Enough with the jokes, I don't want... Yes, I'm serious. Of course I'm right. I never get my grammar wrong. Around you, haha." My hope is that this will instill a sense of indignation in the hearts of my "critics" at being insulted so openly by an everyman that they will be spurred on to obsessively, compulsively, and obsessive-compulsively relearn their grammar to the point where they, too, can claim imagined superiority over the Great Unwashed, thus inadvertently combating the inevitable decline of English grammar. Or, they could think I'm an asshole and try to shut me up. That happens, too. Especially on the internet.
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« Reply #13 on: April 05, 2011, 05:35:05 PM »

Oh, I assure you that the subjunctive will not die at my hands. I do use it, even in everyday speech. And I do get weird looks from some people when they hear it. You will find it in my writing if you look. I take pleasure when I encounter it, which is most likely when reading someone like Tolkien or Dickens, and almost never happens on the internet or in the newspaper now.

Some 35 years back or thereabouts, a college professor friend of mine (now departed this life, alas) interrupted me at one point to say, "Congratulations, you actually USE the subjunctive. And you do it correctly." I was a bit astonished, but he went on to point out that his own graduate students did not use it even in formal academic writing. Since he taught neuroscience, they were all experts at the passive voice though. ;p

I remember when I was in high school French that the teacher had great difficulty getting her students to even grasp the concept of the subjunctive, which of course is clearly indicated in written French even though it is no longer entirely clear in the spoken language. That was about 45 years ago, and things have proceeded rapidly since then. Even the subjunctive usage of the verb "to be" has been muddied in America because the Southern Black dialect, now elevated to the level of a "language" by the Eubonics movement, completely alters the application of the word "be" to make it an active verb form rather than an infinitive or subjunctive. Thus the distinction can no longer be expressed or discerned. So "they be able" which would be subjunctive or conditional in standard prescriptive grammar becomes instead either a simple copula or an emphatic, depending on tonal inflection.

Wikipedia lists the verb forms in modern English that still convey a clear subjunctive meaning. They are very few, and will eventually be replaced by auxiliary words such as "if" or "whether."
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« Reply #14 on: April 05, 2011, 06:55:11 PM »

You know what, let's start a "Save the Subjunctive" movement. I'm serious. We already go to so much fuss to save endangered species because losing them would upset the ecosystem in strange, mysterious ways only ecologists and God can fathom (w/c is not to say that I don't trust them, because they obviously do know better me than me in the Creation aspect); why can't we do the same for our language, which has a much more immediate impact on our lives, ideas, and intelligence quotients? Not that I care about IQ, but as Orwell said many decades ago and (for all you Orwell-haters) as other writers, psychologists, and neuroscientists have parroted/proven ever since, how we speak shapes the way we view the world. Other people may feel they could use less clarity or precision in their lives. I do not.

I'm sorry I'm so angry about this. Wait. Actually, no, I'm not. English is the first language I ever learned; it's the largest one around, and it has enabled me to express all kinds of wild ideas as well as appreciate the nuances of the ones other people - who, incidentally, I have no chance of meeting - came up with. I can maybe-probably do without a few obsolete words, but you'd have to beat me up and get me pretty sodding drunk to have me support the removal of such an invaluable element of language as a grammatical case.

Speaking of obsolete words, the OED has its own project dedicated to keeping underused words from obsolescence and out of the trash bin. Save the Words contains such gems as "boreism" (the behavior of a bored person), "pugnastics" (boxing ability), and "ictuate" (to repeat). Several of the words may be of interest mostly to linguists and such hobbyists, but there are a few like "microreproduction", "long play" (as in the LP record), and "ten-cent store" which were quite common as recently as a decade ago and I think shouldn't belong on that list. Whether you have the resolve to actually "Adopt a Word", or just want to browse for a good-but-not-too-elitist-sounding term, I think it's worth a look.

EDIT: Interesting insight about the Southern Black usage of "to be". Since you can probably explain this better than Wikipedia - on what basis did that movement convince whoever it was that needed to be convinced that that dialect was actually a language? Was it a creole or somesuch?
« Last Edit: April 05, 2011, 06:58:19 PM by Reiter » Logged

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