It’s better to give than to receive

Why is it that some people have an insane amount of money while others have very little?

This question popped into my head when I heard about a man who paid millions for the elite privilege of being a space tourist.

There are no pat answers to questions like this. But, if I were to trust anyone to answer, it would be Mother Teresa who embodied the biblical adage that it is better to give than to receive.

Which brings me to the active voice in writing, another example of how it is (almost always) better to give than to receive.

Using the active voice is generally clearer, less wordy and more exciting for readers. When the active voice is employed, the subject gives the action: She squinted, sized up the batter, then wound up the pitch and burned it across the plate. The active voice puts the reader right into the action.

With the passive voice, on the other hand, the subject receives the action (it’s being done to the subject). The reader has to work harder at understanding what is being done to whom and by whom.

The batter was sized up by the pitcher before the ball was burned across the plate.

There is an awkwardness about the passive voice that frequently sends the reader back to re-read the sentence and think about exactly what is happening.

Here are some clues if you are uncertain as to whether or not you are using the passive voice:

Helpers—in verb tenses, like the one used above (“was”) in “was burned”—often signal the passive voice.

Verbs followed with “by the” should caution you to check if the subject of your sentence is acting or being acted upon.

“By” is an alert that you are probably using the passive voice. A sentence beginning with “There is” is another clue: There is a fly in my soup. State-of-being verbs signal the passive voice.

However, the passive voice should not be given a bad rap. It can be rhetorically effective when used in a question, as in Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

When you use the passive voice, make it a conscious choice.

It can be used to create suspense, often being employed in mysteries or when a writer wishes to delay a subject’s identity: The shadow was shrouded in uncertainty, cast in secrecy, its identity, as of yet, a mystery.

And it may be effectively used when the subject is obvious or unimportant or unknown: Police have been notified. Or, An experimental brain transplant was attempted yesterday.

The writer must decide what is important and lead with that. It’s not wrong for a subject to “receive”, as long as receiving does not become a steady diet.

For writers considering whether to use the active or passive voice in What’s Up Yukon, remember that we are, as a rule, a generous, giving bunch and that it is truly better to give than to receive.

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