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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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June 19, 2010



Passive verbs usually drive me nuts. Apparently, many people believe passive phrases sound more professional, although I think they often just sound pretentious and vague. I can see why in a greeting card it would make sense, though, for the reason you mentioned. Interesting post!


Passive verbs serve another purpose in greeting cards. You can remain non-committal. You might feel obligated to send the person a card, but don't really have warm feelings for him or her. In your heart you can say, "Well, although I don't love this person, somebody surely does..."


A friend of mine who wrote for American Greetings for a while told me she worked with a strict stylebook. Never use absolutes, such as "You were always there for me," because "always" can't be true. Better to say, "You were there for me when I needed you." The New York Times Magazine did a great story about this years ago. It might be in the online archive. Worth checking out.


Passive verbs are too often given a bad rap(!). Seriously, sometimes a person wants to emphasize the action and not the subject, and that's the time to use the passive tense. Undoubtedly, many people over-use passive verbs, but to wipe them out entirely of our usage is a mistake.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Stephanie, IB, Diane, and Bob. I have been away on vacation and was pleased to find your comments when I returned.

Stephanie, I am glad you liked the post.

IB, your "somebody surely does" observation made me smile. Thanks!

Diane, thanks for telling us about the American Greetings stylebook. Very interesting!

Bob, I agree that passive verbs play an important role in our communication. Many times the better choice is to emphasize the action rather than the doer of the action. Thanks for making that point.


wholesale handbag

Interesting post! in china we have Father's Day, but i haven't ever send a card for my father, ((

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