October 1, 2007

The Passive Voice Is Corrected by Buzzword

I was just reading this article about Adobe’s new online word processor, and something caught my eye. In the screenshot, there’s a sentence that’s highlighted, and a bubble in the margin says, “Passive wording fixed.” First of all, it makes me groan to think that so many people still think that the passive voice is simply something that should be fixed, but that’s a topic that’s been covered in a lot of depth elsewhere, notably Language Log, so I won’t get into that right now.

The real head-scratcher is that the sentence “It has some very nice features” is not one that can easily be made into a passive. Yes, it is transitive, so it meets the basic requirements, but I can’t imagine that any native English speaker would produce the sentence “Some very nice features are had [by it]” unless they were intentionally trying to create an example of when the passive voice is a poor choice.

More likely, I think, is that Buzzword misidentified some other type of construction—perhaps there is/are—as the passive voice and then corrected it. There’s a lot of grammatical advice out there right now that makes the same sort of mistakes. Heck, even Bryan Garner and staff members of the Chicago Manual of Style get it wrong.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the trial of Buzzword, so I can’t test out its grammar checker to see if this is the case. If anyone knows more about it, please let me know.

Grammar, Usage 3 Replies to “The Passive Voice Is Corrected by Buzzword”
Jonathon Owen
Jonathon Owen


3 thoughts on “The Passive Voice Is Corrected by Buzzword

    Author’s gravatar

    Should it say “Buzzword fixed passive wording”? It’s not a full on passive, but it is a passive participle.

    Author’s gravatar

    It’s a full-on passive. Generally, [form of BE] + [past particple] = passive construction. And as for whether it should say that, well, that’s a different issue.

    Author’s gravatar

    Well, I managed to sign up for a trial of Buzzword, and it turns out that it has no grammar-checking abilities at all. The underlined text and marginal comment in the screenshot were a comment from a user, just like Word’s commenting abilities.

    Buzzword: 1
    Jonathon: 0
    The creator of that sample document: ?

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