Saturday, January 25, 2014


I've noticed a bit of this: people excoriating other people for using passive verb constructions when that is not what the verb constructions are.

Geoffrey Pullum deconstructs one example from Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post in which none of the 23 verb forms in the passage she criticizes is passive. None. Zero. But Petri thinks they are. And that's the sad part: she and many others don't know what a passive verb is, but they feel obliged to criticze others for using them.

Pullum has collected examples of this phenomenon from many sources and considers the overall phenomenon here.
The topic of this paper is not so much a construction as a strange cultural trend emerging in the 20th century among language mavens, writing tutors, and usage advisers. Unneeded warnings against sentences that have nothing wrong with them are handed out by people who actually don’t know how to identify instances of what they are warning against, and the people they aim to educate or intimidate don’t know enough grammar to reject the nonsense they are offered. The blind warning the blind about a nonexistent danger.

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