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Anonymous Traveler
02-06-2007, 11:40 PM
Occasionally I get spoken to about the excessive use of was. Is there a target limitation I should aim for?

janetbellinger
02-06-2007, 11:41 PM
Was has become a four letter word. Use it very sparingly, if at all. I'm sneaking it in a few times when it seems anything else would be pointless and awkward.

Anonymous Traveler
02-06-2007, 11:47 PM
Was has become a four letter word.

As a bit of an exercise I posted a little humor piece and avoided the use completely. Good practice.

Medievalist
02-07-2007, 12:02 AM
I don't think it's was per se that's the problem.

It is often seen as a marker for passive voice (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=1002802).

Judg
02-07-2007, 12:04 AM
You mean I can't start my novel with "It was a dark and stormy night?"

Rats.

maestrowork
02-07-2007, 12:09 AM
"Was" (or any "be" word) is a weak verb. It's useful in places, but generally it's weak. It's lazy writing -- it's usually followed by a vague adjective or -ing verb, which is often used incorrectly, or passive voice, which is also weak.

"It was beautiful" -- how not show us how beautiful?

"It was a snow globe" or "There was a man in the corner" -- weak construction.

"It was raining" -- why not simply "It rained"?

"I was pushed" -- passive voice.

SpookyWriter
02-07-2007, 12:09 AM
You mean I can't start my novel with "It was a dark and stormy night?"

Rats.Sure you can, but it will never make print. :D Was is passive, I agree with Lisa.

Examples: Hmmm....which is better?

There were two horses pulling the coach.

The coach was pulled by two horses.

Two horses pulled the coach.

Jamesaritchie
02-07-2007, 12:11 AM
"Was" is not a bad word in any way. Use it as often as you wish, but use it correctly.

If you don't know the difference between active and passive, "was" can sometimes get you in trouble, and this is where it gets a bad rep.

But if you don't know the difference between active and passive, you're probably screwed, anyway.

At any rate, as long as you use "was" correctly, there is no limitation on how often you can use it. Just use the same common sense judgment you would apply to any word.

Judg
02-07-2007, 01:22 AM
Examples: Hmmm....which is better?

There were two horses pulling the coach.

The coach was pulled by two horses.

Two horses pulled the coach.
Actually, I would probably make the choice based on rhythm and flow.

Now I think I'll go use my search function and look for all my wases and weres.

Hmm, according to the forum spellchecker, wases is a word... And spellchecker isn't.

SpookyWriter
02-07-2007, 01:31 AM
That's wase and plural is wases. "We put a whooping on their wases."

Wase: a bundle of straw. Go figure.

Jamesaritchie
02-07-2007, 01:35 AM
Sure you can, but it will never make print. :D Was is passive, I agree with Lisa.

Examples: Hmmm....which is better?

There were two horses pulling the coach.

The coach was pulled by two horses.

Two horses pulled the coach.

Was is passive only when it's used incorrectly. In your examples, "was" is used passively, but trying to avoid "was" because it's sometimes passive means you're going to be tying your writing in knots avoiding an imaginary problem.

Not all sentences can be active or passive, and a writer who doesn't know when "was" does and does not make a sentence passive is in deep trouble.

SpookyWriter
02-07-2007, 01:40 AM
Was is passive only when it's used incorrectly. In your examples, "was" is used passively, but trying to avoid "was" because it's sometimes passive means you're going to be tying your writing in knots avoiding an imaginary problem.

Not all sentences can be active or passive, and a writer who doesn't know when "was" does and does not make a sentence passive is in deep trouble.I know, I wrote them that way as examples. :D

Anonymous Traveler
02-07-2007, 07:01 PM
Supplemental question, your honors.

In dialog is/are was-were as critical? Or is grammar even important if it establishes the character's communications skills?

"You were too!" "I was not!" "You were too!" etc...

janetbellinger
02-07-2007, 07:13 PM
Well you know everythng becomes trite within five years, and that will apply to verbs as well. Was is out of fashion right now as are adjectives but eventually people are going to get tired of reading five pages of description of somebody washing his face and will look at was and adjectives and adverbs with a balanced eye once again.

Jamesaritchie
02-07-2007, 08:39 PM
Well you know everythng becomes trite within five years, and that will apply to verbs as well. Was is out of fashion right now as are adjectives but eventually people are going to get tired of reading five pages of description of somebody washing his face and will look at was and adjectives and adverbs with a balanced eye once again.

"Was" is not, in any way, out of fashion. I have yet to pick up a single published novel that doesn't use "was" often.

Bad writing is out of fashion, and the only trouble with "was" is that too many new writers have no clue when and how to use it correctly. They actually believe that "was" makes every sentence passive, and that's nonsense. But I guess it's easier than actually learning the active/passive rules.

Nor does it have anything to do with five pages of description. What on earth does this have to do with using "was?" It takes no longer to use active voice than to use passive voice. It's only when writers really don't know the difference between active and passive, or the proper tenses, that write stretches out.

But long, well-written passages of description have been in fashion since the fifteenth century. They've never been out of fashion, and probably never will be.

Five years form now, or twenty years from now, use of "was" is going to be the same. Know how to use it properly, and you can use it pretty darned often. Not know how to use it properly, and the writing will still be bad, and no one is going to enjoy it.

"Was" is a good, useful word. It is NOT out of fashion, and good writers use it daily. Bad, passive writing has always been out of fashion, and I hope it stays this way.