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Make Microsoft Find Passives

Does your Microsoft Office grammar and spelling checker ever flag passive verbs in your writing? If not, do not assume your writing is free of passive verbs. Instead, assume that you do not have your grammar and spelling checker set to flag them.

To test your setup, type the sentence “The work should be done” in Microsoft Word or Outlook. If your grammar and spelling checker doesn’t identify “should be done” as a passive verb phrase, you have to change your options.

To change your options, click the Tools menu, then Options. Then click the Spelling and Grammar tab.

In the lower right of the Spelling and Grammar box, Writing Style should be set at Grammar & Style–not Grammar Only. Change it to Grammar & Style, if necessary.

If you have an early version of Office, you may need to set Writing Style on Formal. Or you can click Settings, and then be sure that the box for Passive sentences is checked. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what is available under Settings so you get helpful grammar and spelling suggestions–not ones you always ignore.

Once your grammar and spelling checker is set to flag passive verbs, you can forget about them. Microsoft will do the work of identifying them for you. Although the software is not perfect, I find that it flags at least 90 percent of passive verb phrases.

When you get the message “Passive Voice (consider revising)” from your grammar and spelling checker, remember this: In some places, passive verbs are perfect.

A final note on passive verbs: They have nothing to do with the psychological term “passive-aggressive.” At least not in this blog!

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

One comment on “Make Microsoft Find Passives”

  • I extremely enjoyed this! I would have to say this is an awfully informative post that needs mentioning elsewhere. This is for 2 types of people:current writers who are considering a other craft,and people trying to prefer to become a writer.

    TITLE: Catch Passive Voice With Your Computer
    BLOG NAME: Texas Appellate Law Blog
    DATE: 03/06/2007 10:58:48 PM
    Short on time to edit a brief? Looking for a way to help catch passive voice in your writing? If you are a Microsoft Word user, Ive got just the trick for you.
    In the Grammar Settings dialog box (Tools / Options / Spelling Grammar),…

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