Wandering slowly and aimlessly through the thickly growing vines of the cyber jungle, I happened quite unexpectedly upon yet another rant about the use of adverbs, this one (quite illogically) perpetuating the common and poorly-thought-out adage that using adverbs equals using passive voice.
The example given (and no, I won’t post a link. I don’t think it would be very nice to send you there just so you can snicker. At her or at me, whichever one of us you felt was more snicker-worthy.) was “nearly seven years ago.” (No it wasn’t. The time has been changed to protect the innocent.) The argument was put forward that to say “nearly seven years ago” was somehow more passive than to say “seven years ago.”
It is neither more nor less passive, it is simply more precise, and possibly more accurate. Yes, I used an adverb – “simply.” I used it in the sense of “simple as opposed to complex.” I used it as a shorthand reference. I could have said “To use the phrasing ‘nearly seven years’ has the simple advantage of being…” or some other phrasing, and I would if I saw an advantage to it, but I don’t. It is simply better to use the adverb. (Then I used “possibly.” Oh, my.) (And don’t get me started on the people that confuse precision and accuracy.) (Or the overuse of parenthesis.)
Passive voice, which also gets a bad rap it doesn’t deserve, is when the subject of the sentence gets something done to it, rather than doing something. Active voice, which enjoys a completely undeserved reputation, is when the subject does something, itself. To say you should never use passive voice is to say a painter should never use yellow. To say that passive voice is bad, because it brings a certain feeling to the writing, is to say that the feeling it brings is never needed or desired. OK, I’m running the serious risk of getting off-rant here, but the whole passive/active rant is going to have to wait.
(note to self – add passive/active to rant list – and precision/accuracy – and infinitives, split)
Nearly seven years had passed since he’d last seen her.
This is not the same statement as “seven years had passed.” If I need to convey the exact sense of “nearly seven” without using an adverb, what do I say? “Six years and eleven months had passed?” That’s better? It certainly has a different read, a different rhythm, etc, but better? Not necessarily.
I can avoid the adverb by using near, near to, close to, pretty near, prett-near (ugh! But it’s in my Roget’s), almost, most, all but, quite, as good as, well-nigh, just about… Well, you get the picture. You’ve got your own thesaurus. The point is that each of these phrasings, including “nearly seven years,” has its own value and place, even though I would argue that some of them do not currently mean “almost.” To outlaw any of them on the basis of ending in “ly” is simply and truly pointless.
By the way:
How does an animal, knowing nothing about anatomy, understand the significance of eye contact?