Carmel, Ca.

A Champion of the Active Voice Verb

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” — Leonardo Da Vinci

Warriner’s green grammar book first introduced me to the difference between active voice verbs and those in passive voice. As a young English teacher back in the early eighties, I remember hearing from older mentor grammarians that passive voice was a favorite of defense attorneys in courtrooms for the passive voice verb hides the doer of the action. She was murdered at 3pm as opposed to The defendant murdered the victim at 3pm subtly protected the individual being tried by allowing the jury to suppose it could have been someone else. Some years later I realized more importantly that active voice verbs implied commitment to large ideas and actions. As part of a committee charged with writing a series of This We Believe statements expressing our school districts’ mission and vision for our students of the future, I became known as The Verb Lady because I fought hard to persuade the group we should write our statements with active voice to clearly state what we were promising to do! I’m not sure everyone really thought the distinction was important. And now, a day or two ago, someone I look up to sent me a congratulatory note on a card faced with the Da Vinci quote above. I should first say I think ease of email has eroded the thoughtfulness we used to extend to each other by occasionally reaching out in this way, but that aside, I was struck by the quote. I want to be a person that “happens to things,” living life actively and decisively. I don’t want to let life happen to me. When I was in high school, I used to love that quote from Thoreau about ‘living life deliberately and sucking the marrow out of life.’ Yes, I was in high school in junior English — the year of American lit. — but somehow now in the latter part of my life, I still have that urgency. I am about to launch into the most exciting part of my career at a time when many are heading for golf courses in Florida. I probably am going to blog about it, if only to tell a story that someday my future grandchildren may wish to know. Thus begins my story of my journey to make things happen…for the good of my students.