Talk:Postilion sentence

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I remember working with a textbook once where the students has to produce the passive, "The sofa is being bitten by the dog." I still occasionally spend some time trying to imagine a situation where one might actually say such a thing. I suppose it could be a response to the question "What is happening to the sofa? - but what context could give rise to this conversation? I tried to explain my objection to my fellow teachers but all I got were blank looks. Anyway, answers on a postcard please to .... --Bob M 21:21, 24 May 2009 (UTC)

?Mazing! Anyways, surely it should be shaken not ... chewed not bitten? Re. trying to get sense out of fellow teachers, I gave up many years ago when I discovered I got more sense out of me students... :) --Technopat 22:12, 24 May 2009 (UTC)
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)

Colourless green ideas sleep furiously[edit]

i was about to add the above phrase (coined by Noam Chomsky as an example of a perfectly constructed but nonsensical error) only to find that Wikipedia describes it as a "category mistake". Is WP correct (ha ha) and if so, is it worth TEFLpedia having an article on category mistakes? Totnesmartin 15:20, 5 January 2010 (UTC)

Hi Totnesmartin. Having read (OK skimmed) the WP article I now understand what a "category mistake" is. As you say - perfectly constructed but nonsensical. This is clearly different to what many English teachers are used to seeing - sentences which are badly constructed and nonsensical.
To answer a bit more seriously, our objective is to write (mainly) for English teachers and in Standards of style we state: "Although we aim to become an encyclopaedic reference source we would like our articles, in general, to be accessible to the average reader." I personally think that "category mistake" is a bit too far into linguistic theory for both the average English teacher and, indeed, the average reader. However, it is always possible that I may be misjudging both groups and if you were to create such an article I would not call for its removal.
But apart from that, thanks for reverting that bit of vandalism, thanks for joining in and a very Happy New Year.--Bob M 19:36, 5 January 2010 (UTC)
That's what I thought - too theoretical rather than about teaching per se. And happy repose of hieroschemamonk Symeon of the Pskov Caves to you! totnesmartin 20:18, 5 January 2010 (UTC)
And blue tasting walnuts thinking inwardly at a straight bent angle to you.--Bob M 22:06, 5 January 2010 (UTC)