Thursday, June 7, 2007

The story about voice….

Before you jump the gun, the fervent feminist inside of me is not going to indite another ‘woman-oriented’ piece today. Neither is this post a remonstrance nor is it esoteric writing. The ‘voice’ that I referred to in the subject line, is heard the most and misused even more often. I am talking about the world of active voice and passive voice. Believe me; despite what you do for a living, you need to know the accurate usage of the two and more often than not, obliterate passive voice from your rulebook of writing. You cannot completely eliminate passive voice but should intend to sound coherent.

Passive: The passport was not stamped until Valentine’s Day.
Active: The immigration officer did not stamp the passport until Valentine’s Day.

Passive: The ball was caught by Rahul Dravid.
Active: Rahul Dravid caught the ball.

The journey begins with when you apply for your first job. Your cover letter, at the end says, “Please find attached my resume for your perusal”. Seriously, who is the agent who attached the letter?

I was talking to my cousin the other day about how most South Asians face this problem - despite all their intelligence, tenacity and hard work, they are inept at writing and lack the basic linguistic skills. After indulging in passive voice most of our adult life, when we move to the west, our choice of voice haunts us – be it school, work, or just social gatherings. Do not get me wrong; we know our grammar to the tee, in theory at least, just not the appropriate usage of it.

So anyways, our badinage led to an epiphany: is the choice of voice a reflection of our culture? South Asian culture preaches non-confrontation, indirect speech, and everything unrealistically polite, so do we end up using passive voice to avoid sounding aggressive and/or awkward? Call it postulation, but I could not think of any other reason.

Any thoughts? I’d be interested!

Copyright © 06.07.2007

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

As the blog was being read by me, thoughts about the many times I speak this way came into my mind. And you know what - how right your are! But.. this I must say.. speaking in the passive tone gives a feeling of relaxation, does it not?

Just a lazy string of words... meandering soporifically... gently tracing their way over the myriad undulations of our thoughts.

While your active voice.. that is more like a military march.. direct, firm, stiff.. a no nonsense set presenting their meaning straight up.. It is like: Read it! Move on!!!

GB said...

The matter is agreed to by me!!!!

a said...

In Rome do what the romans do, anonymous. call it military march or whatever you want but active voice is what sells. no beating around the bush.

BCS said...

I agree. Using passive voice is only an escape route.Call it eastern culture, but the aim is to minimise direct hurt which may crop up with active voice a.Yes!THIS DOES NOT FIND A PLACE IN THE MATERIALISTIC WORLD OF TODAY. But the point is how far one is prepared to receive active voice.

Anonymous said...

passive voice led to my GMAT downfall

Rishi said...

Just curious...is it possible to use active voice everytime?

chezmoi said...

I LOVE the headlines you come up with!!!!!!!!

m said...

you got it right. it's the politeness of south asian culture that encourages the usage of passive voice.

Vizzy said...

enjoyed reading it...