Talk:Passive

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Who needs the passive voice in early days of coming to grips with English anyways? Let them learn circumlocution after they get comfy with the active voice, sez I, and if they need icing on their cake early on, let it be simple tenses other than the present. I've also found notions of intent or obligation (e.g. tengo que...) to be useful in routine discourse. Will 13:54, 6 September 2009 (UTC) (Il y a un dragon dans mon lit. Je voudrais une moustiquaire tout de suite, svp.)
Well you don't need passives at first - but you certainly do later.--Bob M 10:50, 7 September 2009 (UTC)
Bane of modern society, I reckon. Be active - fight passivity! I try to convince me students that they'll only really be exposed to the passive voice in formal, written contexts and I go to great lengths to insist they use active structures whenever possible, whether verbally or in writing. Even among native English speakers there seems to be this acquired inferiority complex that makes 'em feel that the passive voice is somehow "better". Not! Plain English is where it's at.
And as Will points out above, getting expressions like "I/you/we have to" under the belt at a very early stage in one's language learning is fundamental. I may be wrong regarding modern coursebooks - 'cos I wouldn't touch 'em with a bargepole - but most that I came across in the past seemed to consider such structures as being beyond the capacity of students and only introduced 'em as an afterthought towards the end of level 2 or even 3. Jeez!--Technopat 11:11, 11 September 2009 (UTC)
I'm not sure it's that unusual. I've just gone to the first story of today's Guardian. The first passive turns up in para three and para four is loaded with them. rewriting it in the active would, I think, produce a quite clumsy paragraph. OK, it's a relatively formal report, but hardly unusual.
I wouldn't say the passive is in any way naturally "better", but in some circumstances it really is the most appropriate.
Furthermore, students need to at least know that passives exist and be able to understand them - even if we don't want to encourage our students to use them.--Bob M 11:22, 11 September 2009 (UTC)
Of course there are circs. in which it's appropriate. Ditto the subjunctive. I didn't mean that use of the passive was unusual - just that it's greatly over-used. And this is the first time I've seen the Grauniad, or any other newspaper, for that matter, heralded as an example of good writing. :) Journalists - and I realise that I may be stepping on a few whatchamallems here - are notoriously bad writers in the same way that TV folk are notorious for their bad use of the spoken word.
Finally, of course we need to point these, and many other aspects of language, out to our students, but as with so many other aspects of grammar, many students - victims of the system - spend more time learning how the carburettor works instead of learning how to drive.--Technopat 11:40, 11 September 2009 (UTC)
I use the Guardian not as an example of "good writing" - however we may wish to define it - but as an example of writing which our students will certainly encounter. In my opinion, whatever is commonly used is "good" for our students, and any attempts to impose some arbitrary standard of "good" use of language on popular culture are doomed to failure.
With you second point I agree completely. It is far more important to give our students practice in "driving" than it is to give them courses in theoretical engineering.--Bob M 14:20, 11 September 2009 (UTC)


Differing views[edit]

OK, I'm trying to get an article where we describe where and why the passive is used and putting the opinions to the bottom. Does that seem fair? --Bob M 16:15, 11 September 2009 (UTC)

I will be mulling this over for a few days... perhaps the article is becoming burdened with undue weight given to the pros and cons of the passive voice. I myself avoid the passive wherever possible in my writing, since it can make for a droning tedious style when overdone. It does, however, have valid uses, and is a prominent feature of written and spoken English. Perhaps more focus on various passive constructions is in order, even up to the King of Siam's exemplary rant to Anna, "Your Moses shall have been a fool!" Will 12:40, 12 September 2009 (UTC)
Could be. Our objective is to be a resource for English teachers which will also be of interest to students and other users of the language. So I suppose both facts and opinions about usage are both appropriate.--Bob M 17:59, 12 September 2009 (UTC)
Oops. The royal rant was not in the passive voice, but used a strange tense of "to be." Perhaps "Your Moses shall have been taken for a fool!" would be a better example. Sorry, Will 01:22, 14 September 2009 (UTC)

Second opinion[edit]

Need a second opinion on that example in subsection Passive#Where_the_action_is_more_important_than_the_agent: The door was closed Is it the lateness of the hour and I'm dense or should a better example be found? Cheers! --Technopat (talk) 18:29, 23 April 2013 (CDT)

Perhaps it might not be considered to be very exciting but exactly what is not liked about it by you? :-)
Oh dear! I was hoping you'd've solved it already so I wouldn't have to let y'all see my lack of interest proficiency in grammar-related matters. Basically, my nagging doubt is whether "The door was closed" is a good example of a passive. "A letter was sent" clearly demonstrates the passive, as opposed to "They sent a letter", but I do have my doubts about that closed door. My working rule is that we could, at a pinch, and at the risk of sounding stilted, add the agent onto the end of a passive, as in "A letter was sent... by the client", but we have chosen to leave out that info. In the case of the "The door was closed", I can envisage "... by the last person entering", but even tho' I've slept, breakfasted and got some work done since posting my doubt, there's something in there that's still nagging at me :( Am perfectly happy to take yer word for it that it's OK, but just thought I'd mention it. --Technopat (talk) 09:11, 24 April 2013 (CDT)
One could say:
  • After I arrived at the party the door was closed behind me.
In this case it was clearly closed by someone but we are not told who closed it and we can assume that the speaker either didn't know, didn't think it was important or wanted to hide the information. Without more context, or possibly without asking the speaker, we simply don't know.
But I suspect that your unease comes from a different point. There is another case where "to be" is followed by a past participle - that is when the past participle is used as an adjective. I can say "a blue door" and "blue" is pretty obviously an adjective. But I can also say "a closed door" and now "closed" is an adjective. (This adjectival sense is how you use it in your post.)
If we take the case "The door was closed." It could be either "to be plus adjective" - "The door was blue" "The door was closed". "I found a closed door" "I found a blue door" - or it could be a passive. "The door was closed by the cleaner"".
So given all that it would probably be better to use a past participle which is unlikely to be an adjective. Some verbs have adjective forms - "open" is a good example where the adjective is (usually) "open" rather then "opened". So I'll change it to that. --Bob M (talk) 12:34, 24 April 2013 (CDT)
 :) I'll be able to sleep much better tonight. Thanks! --Technopat (talk) 18:19, 24 April 2013 (CDT)