A math guy's random thoughts.
|I admit it. I'm not so good at grammar.
I subscribe to The Chicago Manual of Style for exactly that reason. It provides clear answers to almost any grammar question.
You don't have to pay for good grammar advice, though. Most universities have websites devoted to the basics to assist composition students. Many people in the business would agree that one of the best is :The Purdue Owl . When I am critiquing a story that I think would benefit, I will often link to the relevant page on the Owl. Their discussion of commas, for example is quite good.
I've recently started reading reviews that other people post on WDC as part of participation in Sara♥Jean 's project "R.A.W.R. Public Forum" , Rewards for Awareness of Wonderful Reviews. I'm pleased to report that there are dozens of excellent reviewers here on WDC who provide helpful, supportive, and accurate critiques. I knew this was true from the multitude of helpful comments I've gotten on my own work, but it's nice to see this reflected across a broad spectrum of users. Helpful reviews are one of the many features that make WDC so valuable to authors.
Sometimes, though, even a well-intended and otherwise valuable review can be a bit off the mark, which is what inspired this blog.
I have seen more than one review that conflated "passive voice" with "perfect tenses." Not sure what a "perfect" tense is? The trusty Owl has the answer: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/grammar/verb_tenses/index.html
So here's the thing. Sometimes, ever on the lookout for passive verbs, a review will mistake, say, past perfect for passive voice. It's easy to do. I've even caught myself doing it, and I know the difference.
Let's look at an example. I wrote
I have seen more than one review...I could have written
I saw more than one review...Both indicate that the action happened in the past.
Both are active: there is a subject--I--a verb, and an object. The mere presence of the helper verb "have" in the first example does not make this a passive sentence.
So, what's the dfference? Of course, the first uses a past-perfect verb, while the second uses past indicative. CMOS 5.133 says
[Past perfect tense] refers to an act, state, or condition that was completed before another specified or implicit past time or past action
In particular, I read these reviews after participating in the R.A.W.R. project and before writing this blog. When I read these reviews answers the implicit question posed in the immediately preceding sentence about what inspired this blog.
In short, past-perfect tense gives more information than the past indicative "saw." It helps to establish the sequence in which events occurred.
The same is true for all the perfect tenses: present-perfect, future-perfect, and past-perfect.
They are not "passive voice." They are not "passive writing." They are grammatically correct writing that conveys information in a precise, compact way.
I know that "had" often appears in lists of words to "never use" in fiction. It's true that generally speaking fewer words are better. It's also true that often the sequence of events doesn't matter. But it's also true that there are occasions when it's appropriate and even more accurate to use one of the "perfect" tenses.
I'm tempted to say that there is no "writing rule" that doesn't have an exception. However, I don't need Boolean algebra to know that would lead to a paradox.
That's a blog for another day.