Readability tips, literacy news, and English writing advice

How To Recognize Passive Voice

It's no secret that varying the sentence structure in your writing keeps your reader engaged; however, the conciseness of your writing is just as important, ensuring that the reader stays focus and thoroughly understands the content. This is typically achieved by using active voice, as opposed to passive voice. Distinguishing between the two voices may seem difficult, but these titbits should clarify what constitutes as being passive voice in writing.

Passive voice appears when an object is present in a sentence, and that object is placed at the beginning rather than at the end of the sentence. This creates a bit of obscurity in your writing, which will confuse the reader as to what the sentence is saying.

An example of passive voice would be as follows:

The car was driven by my sister.

Although this sentence may not cause much confusion, it could definitely be more clear, direct, and lively. The car is the object of the sentence, being placed at the beginning instead of "my sister," which is the true subject of the sentence. To create a more active sentence, it is appropriate to place the subject at the beginning, followed by the verb and then the object, which is the car.

In active voice, the sentence would then be:

My sister drove the car.

An important characteristic of passive sentences is the insertion of a "to be" verb, such as is, are, was, and were; however, it is important to note that this does not guarantee the sentence is passive. Active sentences can have "to be" verbs in them.

Although passive voice can be used in writing and speaking, it is generally discouraged and should not be overused. Next time you are proofreading your compositions, make sure to establish a clear voice to fully engage the reader.

Another Four Words That English Really Needs

The English language has a long and colorful history of appropriating words from other languages—bildungsroman, cliché, bon voyage—to name just a few, but English is an ever-evolving language as well, and these four words from other languages are just what English really needs:

Bueno, from Spanish, literal meaning: good

Bueno is just a good all-around word that can be used in many conversational scenarios, for example: "I'm coming over right after work," she said, and you can reply "Bueno!" meaning, "That sounds good to me!" Or perhaps you want to communicate that you feel good in general, bueno is a great word to choose because it has an upbeat sing-song rhythm that the Germanic-derived "good" lacks.

Lagom, from Swedish, literal meaning: sufficient

Lagom is, at first glance, a short, simple declarative word, but it contains multi-faceted meanings very efficient for English language usage. Modern humans constantly strive for balance in their hustle-bustle existence and this is where lagom is useful. A deeper look at the word reveals it means "just the right amount" or "perfect-simple." That's balance, that's lagom.

Sturmfrei, from German, literal meaning: having the house to oneself

In its native language, this word applies to children, specifically children being allowed the freedom to enjoy unstructured time without the control or supervision of their parents. Overscheduled kids raised by helicopter parents could certainly benefit from more sturmfrei in their lives. Can you imagine the creative forces that could be unleashed with sturmfrei? Plus, it is very fun to say.

Itadakimasu, from Japanese, literal meaning: I receive this food

For the English-speaking family that does not say grace before meals, itadakimasu is a worthy consideration. It conveys respect for the food that is before you, and is said before meals. A moment spent considering the origin of the meal, and respect for the person(s) or prepared the meal and made it possible for you to eat, as well as an acknowledgement of good fortune it is to be able to feed oneself, for all these reasons, itadakimasu would be an excellent word to add to our vocabulary.

These are just four words from other languages that English really needs. Given the wide breadth of languages still spoken in this world, choosing just four words isn't easy. Countless words, and languages for that matter, are being lost from underuse all over the world, including English, so adding new ones is forward-thinking, as well as fait accompli (colloquial American) "done deal."

Towel Day Cryptic

We must shelter in group about to get drier (5)

Answer: TOWEL

Easter Cryptic

Festival always poetic taking place across a street (6)

Answer: EASTER

International Women's Day Cryptic

Come clean about one written about female saints (7)


Valentine's Day Cryptic

Fancy man learnt strangely love comes first (10)


Through, Though, Cough, Rough, Thorough, Bough, Hiccough

If you ever found yourself wondering what would happen if anthropomorphised languages discussed why they were the way they were, Loïc Suberville has you covered.


Who ever said english was easy?! #french #english #funny #language #wtf #why #fy #fyp #foryoupage

♬ original sound - Loïc Suberville

Loïc has hit a rich vein of content with his characters able to explore the mind-boggling range of oddities in English, French and occasionally Spanish.

It reminded me of this poem, author unknown:

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough and through.
Well done! And now you wish perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead, is said like bed, not bead -
for goodness' sake don't call it 'deed'!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(they rhyme with suite and straight and debt).

A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, or broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's doze and rose and lose -
Just look them up - and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart -
Come, I've hardly made a start!

A dreadful language? Man alive!
I learned to speak it when I was five!
And yet to write it, the more I sigh,
I'll not learn how 'til the day I die.

The Case of Pronouns

A seeming peculiarity of English is that our pronouns change according to their meaning in the sentence. She doesn't love he, she loves him. Why does 'he' change to 'him?'

This is a concept known as noun cases. Old English, Modern English's grandfather language, used such cases for all nouns. Many modern languages still do so. Grasping the concept of nominative, genitive, dative or accusative noun cases can add a great deal of difficulty for English speakers trying to learn German, Russian, or any number of languages that did not simplify their noun cases over the years in the same way that English did. Finnish has around 14 noun cases!

A proper understanding of our pronouns, which still use noun cases, can not only make learning other languages easier but provide some interesting linguistic insight into our own language! We tend to convert our pronouns instinctively, without much thought to it. Let's take a deep dive into the noun cases that remain in the language and see how they function.

Nominative nouns represent the subject of the sentence. They are also usually the unchanged version of the noun. 'I', 'you', 'he', 'she', 'it', 'we', 'you', and 'they' are the nominative pronouns in English.

Genitive nouns show possession. 'My', 'your', 'his', 'her', 'its', 'our', 'your', and 'their' are the genitive forms of our pronouns. The genitive case is one case that actually does extend to other nouns in Modern English. We form this case, generally, by adding 's to a noun. For example, "This is Frank's book." lets us know that the book is a possession of Frank.

Accusative nouns indicate the object of a sentence. 'Me', 'you', 'him', 'her', 'it', 'us', 'you', and 'them' are the accusative versions of our pronouns. And now we know why she loves 'him' instead of 'he'. Because he is the object of the sentence, the word 'him' is used to reference him.

Dative nouns refer to the indirect object of a sentence. Old English differentiated between dative and accusative nouns. Modern English does not. Even the pronouns dropped this case as the language evolved.

We no longer need such cases to get our point across because Modern English relies heavily on word order and context. The sentence, "Him loves she," is not grammatically correct. If we were to hear it, we would think the person is trying to say that he loves her. In other languages, less reliant of word order, that would be a perfectly correct sentence meaning the same thing as, "She loves him". We know from the noun cases that 'she' is the subject word, and 'him' is the object word. Absent word order requirements, it is a perfectly correct sentence.

There is one more case that existed in Old English, the instrumental case. This case indicated that a noun was an instrument or a means of accomplishing something. It is included last because it cannot be replaced with word order or context alone. Instead, it was replaced with the use of prepositions. In the sentence, "He hit the ball with the bat," the bat is the instrument. The words 'with the' indicate to us what the instrumental case would have indicated to speakers of Old English. Some languages have many cases that serve the same function as our prepositions do.

So there's our blast from the linguistic past. The earliest form of English required that all nouns change their case to indicate their role in a sentence. Over time, the accusative, dative, and instrumental cases were dropped and the genitive case was simplified. For whatever reason, pronouns retained their usage of the accusative.

New Year's Day Cryptic

Cleaning from New Year's Day to year's end, it all gets scrubbed regularly (10)


Boxing Day Cryptic

Man remembered on Boxing Day taking walk with female (7)


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