Well, that's another problem with Word. It doesn't distinguish between different styles of writing. However, that can be dealt with. Most people, if they knew they were deliberately writing a fragment would have the guts to leave it. You can always tell Word to ignore this instance of the error.
The same advice accrues when they tell you your sentence is too long. Apparently, the program makes this decision by simply counting the number of words in the sentence, but, it's not the number of words that make a sentence too long. It's how they are joined together. If, as in the sentence starting with Apparently, the program makes this decision, you have joined the next phrase to it with a preposition, by and adding simply counting the number of words in the sentence, and then used the conjunction but to tie it's not the number of words that make a sentence too long, that is fine. (But that sentence isn't. It's a monstrosity. I really needed to have a blackboard and an eraser and to be able to speak to illustrate that. Sorry.) Just try to envision how one group of words is attached to another. Each group of words that you recognize as going together is a structure like a clause or a prepositional phrase. Your native speaker intuition automatically tells you which is which.
This doesn't mean that it's okay to write a sentence that goes on for two pages. It isn't. It's just that the structure and resulting clarity of the sentence is a better determiner of length than an arbitrary number of words is. You can't just say that no sentence should be no longer than twelve words. There is no way that Word is equipped to determine when a sentence is too long, but any native speaker can.
Those are but two examples of Word's word problems. A bigger gaffe occurred when I wrote "She cried and cried." Word greenlined cried. Why? Because the program tagged it as "Passive, must be changed " or words to that effect. Well, not only is cried not a passive verb form, it can never be used as a passive. You can not say or write "She was cried." That would be a passive, but it also would not be English. That is, it is ungrammatical because no native speaker, no matter how uneducated would ever say it. The passive voice is a construction that can only be made with certain verbs. Besides, it is nonsense to claim that every passive verb should be made into an active
Yes, we have a passive voice in English because sometimes you need one. The first set, 1-6 below, boldfaces passive verbs. That is the P set. The second set, 1-6 below boldfaces the corresponding set of active verbs, the ones Word wants you to use. That set is the A set. So, P 1-6 are the passives of A 1-6.
- The papers were xeroxed.
- The car was hit by a truck driven by a drunken teenager.
- Bobby was astonished by Sally's behavior.
- The turkey has been stuffed already.
- The veal brisket will be stuffed by the time you get here.
- You should have been being paid for that work by then.
- The secretary xeroxed the papers.
- A truck driven by a drunken teenager hit the car.
- Sally's behavior astonished Bobby.
- Mom has stuffed the turkey already. (When the hearer know Mom is preparing dinner.)
- Mom will stuff the veal brisket by the time you get here. (Ditto)
- Whoever gave you the work should have been paying you for that work by then. (The speaker doesn't know the name of the employer)
In P1, it doesn't make any difference who xeroxed the papers. If it did, then A1 would be better. However, usually, when someone says "The papers were xeroxed," it makes no difference who xeroxed them. The information that is needed is the fact that the work was done. Hence, the passive is more economical.
Similarly in 4 and 5, there is no reason to say who has or will be stuffing the turkey if it is known that Mom is doing the cooking. What is important is that it is done. Maybe Dad says sarcastically to his lazy daughter, "The turkey has been stuffed already" to emphasize the work has been done. Similarly, the passive in P 5 emphasizes to the hearer "Get here already," because the veal brisket will be stuffed and who wants it to get cold? Making the active "Mom will stuff the ..." doesn't add any new information and takes the emphasis off of the readiness of the meal. In other words, many times passives are used because there is no reason to identify who is doing or has done or will do the action. Either both parties already know or the emphasis is on the activity, or both. Notice, every one of the passives involves a verb that is doing something to something or someone else. They aren't verbs like cry.
In P 2 and its active counterpart, the doer or cause of the action has to be named. It is important that the hearer knows that a truck driven by a drunken teenager caused the accident. As a linguist, I find the passive the better way to report this than the active for two reasons. First of all, using the passive throws that long phrase to the end of the sentence. In English, important information belongs at the end of a sentence, not at the beginning. Yes, I know this contradicts what your high school grammar teacher said.
Linguistic studies of excellent prose have shown conclusively that, in elegant writing or in just plain good writing, the sentences flow from what is known to the new information being imparted. That is, in a discourse, after the introductory sentence, the flow of information goes from old information to new. That is why we use phrasing like "It is important that...." where the it has no meaning whatsoever. That is a ploy to get the important information to the end.
Also, in spoken English, we start our sentences on a low pitch and raise it as we near the end, then dramatically drop on the last word., so why should the important new information be put at the beginning? That is when voice pitch is lowest. What's at the end of the sentence is heard most distinctly. Yes, there are researchers in phonetic labs who investigate just such phenomena.
The second reason that the passive form of 2 is better is that, in the active, there are five words between a truck and the verb hit. That is, the subject is seven words long. The rule is that one should always try to throw a long subject to the end of a sentence. The passive is one way to do that. A sentence with a lot of words between the cause of the action and the verb is awkward. The passive flows more naturally in such circumstances.
English is a word order language. That is, we know how a word is intended to be used in a sentence by the position it is in. For instance, in "The dog bit the boy, " we know the dog is the biter and the boy was bitten because dog comes before bit and boy comes after it. In "The boy bit the dog," the positions of boy and dog tells us that the boy was the biter and the dog got bitten. In languages like Russian or German, there would be word endings that give that information, so the word order isn't as crucial. Why do I mention this?
Because emphasis, especially in writing, is effected by word order changes.
Whenever words are placed out of their usual position, they become emphasized. We know that the doer or the cause of an action comes before the verb, but, as shown above, sometimes we don't want that. That is where the passive comes in. If you say, "The dog was bitten by the boy," the hearer knows by the was followed by the -en ending on bit that the dog did not do the biting. This contrasts with "The dog bit the boy."
You've probably had enough for now, so I'll quickly explain the other sentences. As for Bobby's being astonished, Sally's behavior is emphasized more in the passive because of its being thrown to the end. In the last sentence, if the speaker doesn't know the name of the person who should have been paying you, the passive allows the speaker not to mention a person. By circumlocuting whoever gave you the work as in A 6, the active, no new information has been provided, but a lot of new words have been.
In other words, the passive voice is okay. It has its uses. Yes, it can be abused because it does allow people to avoid saying who did something. Therefore, politicians use it to avoid naming a perpetrator. However, there are all sorts of ways to abuse language, and the passive is but one. So, do we throw it out? If we did, and fortunately it would be impossible to, our writing and our speech would be the worse for it.
Now, how do we let Word's programmers know they don't know grammar?
(If this post is too heavy, don't hesitate to let me know. If you don't and I decide to do another grammar lesson, well, I warned you. Also, let me know if grammar and writing are good topics)