W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-gl@w3.org > April to June 2003

RE: passive vs active voice in May 9 Proposed reorganization

From: David MacDonald <befree@magma.ca>
Date: Mon, 9 Jun 2003 09:22:05 -0400
To: <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <000001c32e8a$2356ee10$99a31a40@david>

Thanks for pointing out the "AND CONTEXTS" qualification to the
Guideline 3.3 best practices suggestion to use "Active Voice".  That
gets WCAG off the hook for using passive voice in the guidelines.

All guidelines are presently in the PASSIVE voice except for one:
2 E-1   User can avoid experiencing screen flicker. 

I think that we should try to make it grammatically consistent with the
other guidelines if we can do it in a graceful way. 


For those who are wondering about active vs. passive voice there is a
great article on it on the University of Wisconsin website.  It also
talks about the imperative voice.


Here is an excerpt: 

How to Recognize Active and Passive Sentences
1. Identify the subject of the sentence. 
2. Identify the action that the sentence identifies. 
3. Examine the relationship between the subject and verb. 
4. Does the subject perform the action of the verb? (If so, the sentence
is active.) 
5. Does the subject sit there while something else -- named or unnamed
-- performs an action on it? (If so, the sentence is passive.) 
6. Can't tell? If the main verb is a linking verb ("is," "was," "are,"
"seems," etc.), then the verb functions like an equals sign; there is no
action (either active or passive) involved -- it merely describes a
state of being.

By the way, according to this definition the phrase "It is raining
outside" is neither active nor passive. It is merely a state of being.  

David MacDonald
 Access Empowers People...
       ...Barriers Disable Them

-----Original Message-----
From: Avi Arditti [mailto:aardit@voa.gov] 
Sent: June 6, 2003 4:12 PM
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Cc: David MacDonald
Subject: Re: passive vs active voice in May 9 Proposed reorganization

Re David's point about 3.3, note the words I've added in capital
letters  as a suggestion to help clarify ...

Best Practices 

1.the content has been reviewed, taking into account the following
strategies for evaluating the complexity of the content, applying them
as appropriate

      a.use of sentence structures that increase understanding 

	- such as active voice in languages AND CONTEXTS where this form
convey information. 


Idle thoughts ahead ...

It's a mantra in the clear-communications field: "keep sentences
active." Heaven knows there are too many needlessly (or purposely)
passive sentences out there. And this can be a problem especially for
non-native speakers (my audience as an editor). 

OK, together now, BUT ... take a sentence like "it is raining outside."
Do you really want to say "rain falls outside" just for the sake of
consistency? For dramatic effect, maybe. 

I'm with those who believe that if most other sentences are active --
certainly the ones where clarity is key -- then say "it is raining."
Readers are less likely to stop and say "huh?" 

Received on Monday, 9 June 2003 09:22:34 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.4.0 : Thursday, 24 March 2022 21:07:30 UTC