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I am finished the website for now, but if you have any more problems please feel free to contact me. Thank you for the work and experience.

I looked up the above in a grammar checking website, and it says that am finished is passive voice. From what I understand, this is something that should be avoided for the most part.

Can anyone explain to me why this site said this was passive, and if possible, explain why this is bad?

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Aside: perhaps better wording is "I am finished with the website for now". –  F.E. May 10 at 18:45
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There is no rule of grammar, nor even of style, that proscribes the passive voice. In fact, it is hard to write in an interesting, varied style without it. –  Robusto May 10 at 18:47
    
I very recommend that you read this article on Language Log, which is a blogue for professional linguists. There you will also find many other insightful, informative, and sometimes highly amusing articles on this particular matter. –  tchrist May 10 at 20:03

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

"I am finished with the website for now".

First of all, there's nothing inherently bad or wrong with using passive voice--often times, it is the better way to construct a clause.

Now, with that aside.

Does your example use passive voice? . . . Superficially, it might appear so, to an automated grammar checker.

A traditional grammar's version of a passive (voice) sentence is a sentence that involves a construction whose lexical verb is a past-participle verb form and whose auxiliary verb is a form of the verb "BE" (or of the verb "GET", in some uses).

Your example has the expression "am finished". The word "am" is a form of the verb "BE"; and the word "finished" has the shape of a past-participle verb form. But that is the crux of the matter: Is the word "finished" in your example a past-participle verb or a past-participle adjective?

There are some grammatical diagnostic tools/tests that you can try out to come to your own decision on this. One diagnostic test that can often be useful is the below--Is the candidate version similar in meaning to an active voice version:

  • "I am finished with the website for now". -- [original version]

  • "Something finishes me, for now". -- [active version?]

Hmm, that doesn't seem to support the passive argument. Compare to: "Today, the neighbors finished the job"; "Today, the job was finished (by the neighbors)".

(Aside: There's also the prepositional passive: "George Washington slept in that bed"; "That bed was slept in by George Washington". But that doesn't seem to be relevant here.)

Another diagnostic test, which can sometimes be useful, to see if the candidate word is an adjective, is to try to see if the candidate word can be modified by "too" or "very":

  • "I am very finished with the website for now".

Nah, that isn't convincing either. Compare to: "Tom is very tired".

There are other diagnostic tests that you can try (which might be in your favorite grammar books), but at the end of the day, you'll have to make the decision for yourself. (I have my own opinion.) Someone else may very well produce a convincing argument for you for one position or the other. Of course, your decision might also be influenced as to the grammar that you are comfortable with, and with how that grammar defines passive voice.

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+1 - very informative, with useful tools to boot. –  medica May 10 at 19:39
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@medica If you've finished with the website, you may not need to boot. –  Edwin Ashworth May 10 at 19:49
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@medica Don't encourage me. I'm off to protect some questions. Once I've found out what it means. Tomorrow, I invade Poland. –  Edwin Ashworth May 10 at 20:29
    
It has always seemed to me that I am finished and I am done are remnants of the old perfect system: i.e. they go in the same category as I am come, he is risen, the gates are fallen, and so on, which were once used where we usually say I have come, he has risen, the gates have fallen. –  Anonym May 10 at 20:42
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Wow, thank you for the thorough answer. –  Kelsey May 10 at 21:20

There is a good article about style, which comments on the passive voice and why that website discouraged you from using it: 50 Years of Stupid Grammar.

You're smarter than a grammar-checking website. Write how you like.

I am not convinced that your sentence is in the passive voice. The passive form of your sentence:

I am finished the website for now.

is

The website is finished by me for now. (An awkward construction indeed.)

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'I am finished with the website' is analysable in more than one way. But it is not a passive construction. 'I' is the agent (or perhaps 'abstainer' is more appropriate). I'd go with an obsolescent form of the present perfect; I don't think anyone would claim that 'come' is an adjective in

I am come in sorrow. (Lord Jim, Conrad)

This has been argued over before here and at wordreference (and doubtless in other places).

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To the best of my knowlege, this is not actually an example of the passive voice, but rather a construction which employs a “state-of-being” verb phrase, which is often conflated with the passive voice due to its less active nature.

However, as I is the actor and the object is the website, this sentence is still an active formulation; that is, the actor is still the subject. On the other hand, the use of the state-of-being verb here is really not so important, and the sentence could be made “more active” by simply removing it:

I finished the website (for now), but if you have. . . .

A truly passive construction would look like so:

The website was finished by me, . . .

As for whether or not the passive formulation is bad, such is a very subjective manner. There are several situations when writing in the passive voice is actually preferred:

  1. When the actor in a circumstance is unknown.
    For example, Gerald was killed. We don’t know by whom.
  2. When the actor is less important than the object.
    For example, Has the package been delivered?

Generally speaking, people discourage the passive voice because the statements are less interesting, more wordy, or because they are simply more clumsy than active constructions.

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My apologies. I will remember that in the future. –  HalosGhost May 10 at 19:58
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No apology necessary; I’m just trying to help. I also tidied up a couple of other little tiny things in your post to help it look and read better; I hope you like them. –  tchrist May 10 at 20:00

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