Active Writing (Essay #2)

Bench & Bar (Kentucky), Vol. 66, No. 1, January 2002

1 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2006

See all articles by Richard A. Bales

Richard A. Bales

Ohio Northern University - Pettit College of Law


This is the second in a series of short, entertaining essays I've written about specific legal writing skills.

This essay is about creating active-sounding verbs. It first examines the passive voice, discussing both its shortcomings and the circumstances under which it is appropriate. An example of the former is when the passive voice masks the identity of the subject, as in the Aesop Fable in which a young mouse suggests that a bell "be hung" around a cat's neck. An example of the latter is when the result of the action is more important than the identity of the actor, as in Grandma got [sic] run over by a reindeer.

The essay then examines nominalizations. Nominalizations are words in drag: they are verbs or adjectives that masquerade, ostentatiously though unconvincingly, as nouns. The essay describes the shortcomings of nominalizations and also how to spot and correct them.

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Bales, Richard A., Active Writing (Essay #2). Bench & Bar (Kentucky), Vol. 66, No. 1, January 2002. Available at SSRN:

Richard A. Bales (Contact Author)

Ohio Northern University - Pettit College of Law ( email )

525 South Main Street
Ada, OH 45810
United States
419-772-2205 (Phone)


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