To Be and Passive Constructions

Perhaps the easiest way to improve your style by giving it more strength and clarity lies in abandoning excessive uses of "to be," which inevitably pad out and weaken writing. First, turn passive to active constructions:

Passive construction: "The naturally unifying force of the couplet is used throughout The Rape of the Lock to illustrate incongruities."

Active construction: "Throughout The Rape of the Lock the naturally unifying force of the couplet illustrates incongruities . . . "

Weak: "values that are distorted by human pride"

Strong: "values that pride distorts."

Weak: "Lines are often split with caesurae."

Strong: "Caesurae often split lines."

To rid your writing of these constructions requires rethinking relations between things. Try, for example, to look for the verbs underlying -ion nouns and similar abstractions:

Before: "It is just a slight exaggeration of the oppression faced by the poor in Ireland."

After: It just slightly exaggerates the oppression the poor face in Ireland." [This version also avoids "exaggeraTION of the oppressION".]

Before: "The whole essay, in fact, is an example of . . . "

After: "The whole essay, in fact, exemplifies . . . "

Cut phrases that have the effect of empty padding

Avoid "It is . . . that (which)" constructions.

Bad: It was the rise of imports that ruined his business.

Better: The rise of imports ruined his business.

Best: Increasing imports ruined his business.

Hint: improving a sentence may require looking for a stronger, more direct noun or verb.

Avoid "due to" and "because of"

A quick, easy way to add strength and clarity involves taking the noun or phrase following due to and because of, and make that noun or phrase the subject the sentence.

Weak Due to the war, his business failed.

Better The war made his business fail.

Even better The war destroyed his business. [more enrgetic]

Best Wartime fuel shortages destroyed his business. [because it explains what specifically damaged the business]

Related Resources


Victorian Web Victorian courses

Last modified 11 March 2008