Pardon My Verb: A Southern Woman’s Writing Dilemma

Passive Vs. Active Verbs Noted in NashvillePardon My Verb: A Southern Woman’s Writing Dilemma

Passive tense is a verb form used by new writers often frowned upon by authors and critics.

Oh, I see their point.

Authors and critics often criticize new writers for using passive tense.


Question:  How can you tell when a southern belle tells you off?  Answer:  If she can’t tell, how can you?

I was raised in a nice, southern, Christian home by a nice, southern, Christian woman.  Mom taught me to address adults with, “Yes, Ma’am. No, Ma’am. Yes, Sir. No, Sir.”  I was taught to be pleasin’ and polite.  I was taught that instructions come in the form of questions. – “Hand me that paper, would you please?”  “I don’t think that’s appropriate, do you?”  If I must make a statement, I was taught to keep it non-threatening and incomplete, “If you’ll just go get my purse. . . .”  I have a passive verb problem.

At the end of the day, most of my revisions look like this:

His feet were hesitant.  He hesitated.

When he reaches the stop sign, he begins to turn right.  He reached the stop sign and turned right.

He could tell she would be good at telling everyone’s stories. . .  She knows everyone’s stories.  And he wants to hear them all.

None of my first attempts are blatant violations of the writers’ active-voice-code.  I didn’t write, “The story would be well told by her.”  But you see how I tap dance around the action.

What I need to do when I write is stomp around – in something that stays tucked-away in my closet; something I save for special occasions.  I need to put on my ass-kicking boots.  All southern women have them.  They are kin to the ax behind the glass, “Break in case of emergency.”  We put them on when some jerk has really crossed the line.  We’ve tried being nice.  We’ve tried to dismiss bad behavior.  We’ve given lots of chances.  Now, we have no choiceNow, they’re gonna get it.

In my experience there is nothing more intimidating than a nice, southern, Christian woman who throws open that closet, reaches in the dark, dusty corner, and pulls out those boots!  Writing a good story is my emergency.  When I write, I need those boots.  So, if you’ll please excuse me Ma’am/Sir, I’ve got some verbs to kick around.

– Anita, Noted in Nashville

Passive Vs. Active Verbs Noted in NashvillePassive Vs. Active Verbs Noted in Nashville


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