4 passive verbs in text, corrected by hand

 

Word and Outlook detect some passive verbs

Word and Outlook are normally right when they identify a passive verb. But they miss plenty. In this text, for example:Passive verb highlighted: Word 2010 and Outlook 2010

  • Word 2010 has underlined a passive verb (can be found).
  • If you edit that out, it shows you another (will be sent).
  • It won’t detect the other two (were set out, will be provided).

Outlook 2010 does the same.

Still, it’s a start. If you want to write in the active voice, use what help Outlook and Word can give, especially the feature that underlines passive verbs in green as you type.

The readability statistics are less useful. You can only reach them after you finish a spelling and grammar check on the whole document. Re-checking text is not simple. And the statistics don’t show how many passive verbs there are in the document. They may not even show how many passive verbs the program has found.

If you use both Word and Outlook, try setting one program to detect passive verbs, then close both and re-open them. You may find that the other has picked up the same settings. Failing that, follow both sets of instructions below.

Detect passive verbs in Word 2010

  1. Set the Proofing options
    • Go to File – Options – ProofingWhen correcting spelling and grammar in Word: settings.
    • Under “When connecting spelling and grammar in Word”, tick these boxes:
      • Mark grammar errors as you type
        (This is the really useful option. Passive verbs are not a grammar error. It’s just the label Microsoft have used for this function).
      • Check grammar with spelling
      • Show readability statistics
    • Set Writing Style to Grammar Only.
  2. Go deeper into the Settings.
    • Click Settings.
    • Tick Passive Sentences.
    • Untick everything else.
    • Click OK to confirm the settings.
    • Click OK to confirm the proofing options.
  3. Start typing a document.
    • As you finish a sentence, Word may underline a passive verb in green.
    • If you edit out that passive verb, Word may then highlight another.
  4. Run a spelling and grammar check
    • In an open document, click the Review tab.
    • Click the Spelling and Grammar button (top left of the screen).
    • Go through the spelling and grammar check. Word will offer more advice, including identifying passive verbs you might change to active.
    • If you correct a passive verb or click Ignore Once, Word may show you another passive verb in the same sentence, if there is one and Word can detect it.
  5. Look at your score for Passive Sentences.
    • At the end of the spelling and grammar check, you get the Readability Statistics.
    • Look at the Passive Sentences. Aim for 10% or less.

Detect passive verbs in Outlook 2010

  1. Set the Spelling and Autocorrect options.
    • Open an email (without this, some settings can’t be changed).
    • Go to File – Options – Mail.
    • Near the top right, click on the Spelling and Autocorrect button.Outlook 2010: Spelling and Autocorrect button
    • Under “When connecting spelling in Outlook”, tick these boxes:Outlook 1010 settings: When correcting spelling in Outlook
      • Mark grammar errors as you type
        (Passive verbs are not a grammar error. It’s just the label Microsoft have used for this function.)
      • Check grammar with spelling
      • Show readability statistics
    • Set Writing Style to Grammar Only.
  1. Go deeper into the Settings.
    • Click Settings.
    • Tick Passive Sentences.
    • Untick everything else.
    • Click OK to confirm the settings.
    • Click OK to confirm the spelling and autocorrect options.
  2. Write your email.
    • As you finish each sentence, Outlook may underline a passive verb.
    • If you correct a passive verb, Outlook may underline another in the same sentence.Outlook 2010: test sentence with passive verb underlined
      (For example, in this test sentence Outlook detected the first passive verb but not the second, even after the first was corrected.)
  3. Run a spelling and grammar check.
    • In an open document, click the Review tab.
    • Click the Spelling & Grammar button (top left of the screen).
    • Go through the spelling and grammar check. Outlook will offer more advice, including identifying passive verbs you might change to active.
    • If you correct a passive verb or click Ignore Once, Outlook may show you another passive verb in the same sentence, if there is one and Outlook can detect it.
  4. Look at your score for Passive Sentences.
    • At the end of the spelling and grammar check, click OK to get the Readability Statistics.
    • Look at the Passive Sentences. Aim for 10% or less.

What does the Passive Sentences score mean?

The score for Passive Sentences in the readability statistics should tell you in how many sentences out of 100 the program detected a passive verb. However, I don’t think it does, because:

  • Clicking on Ignore Once in the spelling and grammar check reduces this score, even if all passive verbs remain in the text.
  • Editing out a passive verb reduces the score, even if the program detected a second passive verb in the same sentence.

To get the most value out of this Passive Sentences statistic, I suggest:

  • Write in short sentences (aim for a Words per Sentence score of no more than 20).
  • In the spelling and grammar check, click on Next Sentence, not Ignore Once, to skip a passive verb.
  • Aim for a Passive Sentences score of no more than 10%.

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