(BBC) Catherine Fox for Lent–Power and Passion

As a novelist, I find it really annoying when other people tell me how to write. If it’s a copyeditor, I try to rein in my annoyance and address the list of queries I’ve been sent about my latest manuscript. I try not think, ”˜Write your own book, if you’re so clever.’ One thing I am not prepared to tolerate, though, is Word’s grammar check, with its impertinent squiggly green underlining my prose. Fragment. Consider revising. I know it’s a fragment. I did it on purpose. For effect. Because I’m a writer.

Besides fragments, one of the things grammar check sets its pedantic face against is the use of passive verb forms. ”˜Instead of “Catherine was hit by the ball”, consider “The ball hit Catherine”. Clearly, the sensible thing is for me to disable grammar check before the laptop is hit by Catherine, or””more properly””Catherine hits the laptop.

It turns out that no piece of prose, however venerable, escapes the vigilance of grammar check. Take these words from the Creed: ”˜He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; Suffered under Pontius Pilate.’ For a livelier and more persuasive sentence, consider rewriting your sentence using an active verb! ”˜The Holy Ghost conceived Jesus. The Virgin Mary gave birth to him. Pontius Pilate made him suffer and crucified him.’ But even if we do rewrite the Creed in this livelier and more persuasive style, there’s still no getting round the fact that Christ is passive here. He is the object of the sentence, not the subject; the one things are done to, not the one doing things.

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