Don't miss a freebie, deal, or new release.Join Now!
banner with headshot and name

Passive aggressive: the grammar post

Before I launch into a grammar diatribe, I have to announce that I passed the halfway point in my current WIP! [Insert happy dance here! :-D]

Okay, back to the blog… The confusion over passive voice, the use of “was” and -“ing”, and the definition of showing versus telling has been bothering me for a while now. Yes, I'm a bit of a grammar nerd. (Though far from perfect!)

I believe a poor understanding of English is insidious when incorrect information is perpetuated by course instructors, critique partners, and contest judges. Authors fear every word they put on paper, frantically seeking new ways to strike “was” from their MS, and deathly afraid of telling us their character “feels” an emotion, rather than showing us through action.

So I was ecstatic to read author Amy Corwin's excellent (with references!) explanation of common grammar myths and show versus tell. If you're one of the confused, check it out.

Another excellent resource for all things grammar, is Grammar Girl. She has a website, and free podcasts on iTunes. On the website, you can subscribe to daily tips via email, or just search the site for the answer to your burning grammar question.

If you prefer a book, there are several good ones out there (I only linked to Amazon for your convenience, not because I'll get any money if you buy).

There are, of course, many others. Ask your friends. Most importantly, be in the know. Don't let uninformed writers scare you with incorrect information.

By all means, get aggressive at eradicating passive voice from your MS. But be sure you understand what it is first.

The Daily Squirrel: coffee

The aroma of freshly brewed coffee couldn't lift Jill's spirits as she rode the elevator up, every jarring ding taking her one floor closer to a day of cubicle-contained hell.

A year ago, she couldn't believe her luck when Mark Alder had chosen her to take over the team of programmers. But only months later, Mark quit and Dean Barlow moved in. Dean rode the team hard, giving them impossible deadlines, and never acknowledging the hard work her team put in to meet them. As the team leader, she was stuck in the middle, taking flak from both sides.

Her blood pressure spiked as she stepped off the elevator onto plush, gray carpet, but she vowed not to let Dean get to her. Today was the day she'd push back.

One of the programmers stopped her in the lobby, ready to burst with shocking news. She wouldn't need to push back today or ever, because someone else had pushed Dean…right off the roof.

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    A woman after my own heart!
    Thanks for the mention and the link to Grammar Girl. I knew Grammar Girl was out there, but I had lost the link! You are a life saver.

    Hope the rest of your wip goes well–I always slow down in the middle and end, so I hope you don’t suffer the same thing. I’m trying desperately to get past the middle of my own wip and it’s fighting me tooth and nail!

    Happy Holidays!

    • Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Amy. Glad I could help you reconnect with Grammar Girl. I love her work.

      I’m trying to get the 2nd half of my WIP to go faster, but if I do it’ll be a first. 🙂

      Good luck and happy holidays!

  2. Christine


    Excellent post–my CP in VA always tells me there is a place for the words we try to eradicate. I still prefer action over non-action, but I’m the last girl to to discuss “grammar” with haha…


    • Reply

      Christine: I’m with you. I prefer active voice and action-oriented writing, but I’m sure there’s occasionally a place to use passive voice. You know, if you’re going to break the rules you have to know them first and understand why you’re breaking them…

      For me, the biggest help in Amy’s post was about the word “was”. There are times when I don’t want to replace “was cutting” with “cut”, and other times when it would be better. The first implies that the action is still going on as the character is watching, the second implies that it happened and is done. Sometimes it matters, sometimes not.

      Thanks for checking in! 😀

  3. Martha Warner


    This is a great post, Gwen. Thanks for the links. I have a pretty good grip on grammar but it is always great to read someone else’s take on it.

  4. Christine


    I truly hate grammar… but I do digress…. here I go with my ellipses….
    But that’s the thing. i read through the grammar, real grammar stuff, and my writing voice screams in general. I guess I’ll need to rely on my writing friends and a great copy editor to set me straight.

    My Maggie finaling MS started with two sentences containing the word “was” cause that was the way it was supposed to go LOL.

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.