“Eventually with this new technique melodies were better heard by the ears of the listener.”

And THIS, my children, is why we English teachers say AVOID THE PASSIVE VOICE!

My student is writing about the piano, as an advance over the harpsichord. “Technology” would probably have been a better choice than “technique,” since she was referring to the piano’s hammer-on-string mechanism, a change from the harpsichord’s plucked-string operation. And yes, the hammer (as well as the changed “box” of the instrument) did produce more volume. The volume was also variable, so the performer could emphasize melody over harmony by striking those keys harder.

Nothing really wrong with the contents of the sentence, then. Nothing wrong, either, with using the passive voice, although in most cases an active-voice sentence is more direct, smoother, more efficient. The passive frequently makes an awkward sentence.

And my my my, does the precision in this clause turn an awkward passive-voice sentence into something truly bizarre. The act of hearing generally involves ears, and ears are, more likely than not, attached to listeners. Specifying this is really not necessary: in fact, in this sentence the writer can assume the agent rather than specifying: “With this new technology, the performer could play louder.”

Aha! Maybe I’m wrong, and the agent for the verb does have to be expressed. Maybe that’s why students haven’t gotten the message yet! Okay, from now on I will say:

“Students, in order to listen to me, please turn your ears towards me. All right, now: “AVOID THE PASSIVE VOICE!”

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

6 responses to ““Eventually with this new technique melodies were better heard by the ears of the listener.”

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