The Receiver as the Subject

Place focus on the receiver of the action

doctor spanking a newborn baby
 

 

Active vs. Passive

ACTIVE

In an active clause, the focus is on the person/thing causing the action. The doer or agent occupies the subject position of the clause, and the person affected by the action, the receiver, is placed after the verb in the object position.

SUBJECT POSITION PREDICATOR OBJECT POSITION
AGENT ACTIVE VERB RECEIVER

My sister

had (bore)
bore is very formal

a baby.

A doctor

helped

her.

The parents

invited

us…

We

brought

gifts…  (to them)

them…  (gifts)

The little baby

delighted

everyone.

A birth

happens
static verb

(in my family.)   

 

PASSIVE

In writing or speaking, we use the passive to change the focus to a particular person or topic. When the receiver is the focus, the verb is marked with a passive verb form. If needed, the agent can be included in a by-phrase.

SUBJECT POSITION PREDICATOR OBJECT POSITION
RECEIVER ACTIVE VERB BY + AGENT

An infant

was born

(to my sister.)   

She

was helped

(by the doctor.)   

We

were invited

(by the parents.)   

They

Gifts 

were brought

gifts (by us.)   

(to them)(by us.)   

Everyone

was delighted

 

(by the little baby.)   

 

A birth

was happened
(never passive verbs)

 

 

 

 

 

Compare

Focus on the birth couple experience:  (active voice)

Last night, my sister had a baby girl. She gave birth at home with the help of a doctor.  Her baby weighed nine pounds. After the birth, my sister and brother-in-law invited us to see the new baby. They proudly showed us their new baby.  They received flowers and gifts. They were delighted¹ with this special event. 

Focus on the baby: (passive voice)

Last night, my niece was born. The baby girl was delivered with the help of a doctor.  After the birth, she was proudly shown to us. She received flowers and gifts. This baby girl, who weighed nine pounds, delighted everyone with her arrival.

Focus on the family experience:  (active voice)

Last night, we welcomed a new baby to our family. The baby girl was born at home to my sister with the help of a doctor. She weighed nine pounds  After the birth, we went to see visit her.  We took her flowers and gifts.  We were delighted¹ with this special event. 

Focus on the doctor:  (active)

Last night, I delivered a baby girl. I found it to be a normal birth. I weighed the infant and she was nine pounds and ten ounces— big!   After the birth, I left so that the birth couple and their families would have some private time to get to know the newborn baby.

 

¹was delighted — [be] + participial adjective

Also see Never Passive.

 

 

Terms

 

The passive is used when:

  1. the receiver (object or indirect object) is the focus
  2. the agents are too many to list
  3. the agent(s) is/ are unknown
  4. the agent is not specific (everyone in general)
  5. the agent is secret / not being revealed

 

 

 

Passive Forms

Be + Past Participle

new baby
 

 

Passive Verb Forms

ACTIVE
PRESENT

We send gifts new parents.

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE

We are sending our best wishes.

PRESENT PERFECT

We have sent flowers daily.

PRESENT PERFECT PROGRESSIVE

The parents have been sending pictures all day.

PAST

My brother sent (them) a car seat.

PAST PROGRESSIVE

Friends were sending baby clothes.

PAST PERFECT

The parents had sent a message before the baby's birth.

FUTURE

The parents will send a baby announcement to friends.

BE GOING

The grandparents are also going to send gifts.

FUTURE PROGRESSIVE

The mother will be sending pictures (to us) soon. 

FUTURE PERFECT

Everyone will have heard the news within minutes.                  

INFINITIVE PHRASE

The father intends to help the new mother a lot.

GERUND PHRASE

Friends suggest calling them if the parents need help.                                  

PASSIVE
PRESENT

New parents are sent gifts (by us.)

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE

Best wishes are being sent.  

PRESENT PERFECT

Flowers have been sent daily.  

PRESENT PERFECT

Pictures have been being¹ sent sent all day.  [not used]

PAST

A car seat was sent (to them) by my brother.  

PAST PROGRESSIVE

Baby clothes were being sent by friends.  

PAST PERFECT

A message had been sent immediately before the baby's birth.  

FUTURE

A baby announcement will be sent to friends (by the parents.)  

BE GOING

Gifts are also going to be sent by the grandparents.

FUTURE

Pictures will be being¹ sent (to us) soon. [not used]

FUTURE PERFECT

The news will have been heard by everyone within minutes. 

INFINITIVE PHRASE

The mother hopes to be helped a lot by the father.  

GERUND PHRASE

Friends suggest being called if help is needed (the the new parents.)  

 

¹ Complicated progressive verb forms are not used in passive.

Related pages  Future Progressive, Future PerfectFuture Perfect – Passive

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passive Sentences

Singular – Plural

 

 

 

Singular vs. Plural Agreement

SINGULAR

Use a singular verb form (is, was, has been) with a singular subject.

PRESENT

His brother is invited.

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE

His brother is being invited.

PAST

His brother was invited.

PAST PROGRESSIVE

His brother was being invited.

PRESENT PERFECT

His brother  has been invited.

PLURAL

Use a plural verb form (are, were, have been) with a plural subject .

PRESENT

His brother and I are invited.
 

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE

His brother and I are being invited.
 

PAST

His brother and I were invited.
 

PAST PROGRESSIVE

His brother and I were being invited.
 

PRESENT PERFECT

His brother and I have been invited.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

Martha has been inviting Jack.   

*Jack has been being invited by Martha.

There is no passive equivalent for past perfect progressive.

A taxi picked up Jack after dinner. Jack was pick upped after dinner. 

The suffix was applied to the preposition instead of the verb. 

We saw that the bees were died.

The verb is intransitive (does not take an object) so passive cannot be used.  Never Passive

 

SOLUTION

Jack has been invited (recently completed)  or

Jack is being invited(ongoing) 

Jack was picked up after dinner.

We saw that the bees were dead. adjective

The bees died an unspecified time in the past

We saw that the bees were dying. ongoing

We saw that the bees had died.   earlier  

 

Also see Irregular Participle Practice

Pop-Q "Died"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Traditional and Linguistic Description

Advanced

 

 

Passive Voice Dispute

AVOIDED OR CONSTRAINED NOT AVOIDED

"The impersonal passive voice [is] an opiate that cancels responsibility, hides identity, and numbs the reader." — Sheridan Baker, "Scholarly Style, or the Lack Thereof" Perspectives on Styles 64, 66 (1956)

"Use the active voice. The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive…"  (Strunk 18)

"Never use the passive where you can use the active."  (Orwell 1946)

Three problems with using passive voice:

  • Its use adds a couple of unnecessary words.
  • When it doesn't add those extra words, it fails to say squarely who has done what. [if no by phrase is included]
  • the passive subverts the normal word order for an English sentence making it harder for readers to process the information. 

There is no absolute prohibition against it. Times you will want the passive are when: the actor is unimportant, unknown, hidden; important or heavier content sounds better at end, focus is on thing being acted upon; passive wording sounds better. (Garner 612)

 

"A large number of commentators agree that sentences in which the verb is in the active voice are preferable to those in which the verb is in the passive voice… In spite of generations of textbooks, use of the passive has increased and, ironically, studies show the passive to be more frequently used by the educated than the uneducated."   Best used when receiver of action is more important, the doer is unknown or unimportant, scientific writing (tone of detachment, objectivity). "you should not lean to heavily on them".  (Merriam-Webster 721)

 

Passive Territory.

  • Constraints: Some verbs aren't used in passive (non-idiomatic). (e.g., She combed her hair.)
  • Scientific Writing: In scientific writing the passive voice is much more frequent than in its ordinary expository or imaginative prose…
  • A double passive: In constructions of the kind He is believed to have taken performance enhancing drugs, a passive verb is comfortably followed by a passive infinitive.
  • Semi-passives: (false passives) past participles used after copular verbs I must get changed. He seems overworked.
  • She was given a watch.  "We still hesitate over and try to evade such passive constructions." Henry Sweet (1898)  This view can safely be discarded. (Burchfield & Fowler 576)

On the origin:

"Fowler (1926) shows no animus against the passive, nor do the great American grammar ranters of the late 19th century, Richard Grant White and Alfred Ayres. Hall's (1917) survey of disputed usages doesn't mention Avoid Passive or anything like it. Something seems to have happened (possibly only in the U.S.) in the first two decades of the 20th century -- or maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places."  (Zwicky 2006)

 

"The specific stylistic charges leveled against the passive are entirely baseless." (Pullum "Fear and Loathing of the English Passive" 2014)

 

Reasons for using passive structures:

  • interest in action [or thing being acted upon]
  • putting news at the end
  • keeping the same subject
  •  putting heavier expressions at the end
  • passive word meaning is different from the active wording meaning (e.g., He was bearing the load. *The load was born…)    (Swan 414)

 

Short passives [without by phrases] are used more predominantly than other forms.  Academic use of short passives, in which the discourse is concerned with generalizations rather than specifics, out numbers conversation, fiction and news use. "It is remarkable that the frequency [in the use of passives] is lowest in conversation and fiction" which are registers with the highest frequency of lexical verbs.

The passive is traditionally described as a formal and impersonal choice. The formality is consistent with the distribution among resgisters, with high frequencies in academic prose and with conversation at the opposite extreme. (Biber 11.3.4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

A Baby Shower

baby shower
 

 

Read the Active Paragraph

Before a baby is born, friends throw a baby shower for the expectant parents. The friends usually hold the shower a month or two before the due date of the baby. The hosts invite friends to come and celebrate. Sometimes, the mother knows the gender of the baby. If so, friends select gifts for either a boy or a girl.

If not, friends try to predict the gender of the baby. Some friends place bets on whether it is a boy or girl.  The event prepares the mother and father for the birth. The parents will use the gifts from this event in the first year of the baby's life. The memories of this event will last a lifetime.

due date (N) – the predicted date of the baby's birth

event (N) – special occasion; especially, a party, celebration, or ceremony

expectant (Adj) – expecting, waiting for the birth of a child

gender (N) – the sex of the baby: male or female

place bets (N) – wagers, place money with the guess.  If correct, the person takes the money of the people who guess incorrectly.  If incorrect, the person loses money.

predict (V) – guess

throw a shower (expression) – to have a party for someone

 

 

 

 

Change the focus focus by using passive wording.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 1-10" button at the bottom.

 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

 

If you need to review participles forms and spellings, see Participles 1 and  Participles 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Superstitions and Wives' Tales

A newborn
 

 

 

Read for Errors

For centuries, people have been telling some rather amusing wives' tales about babies.

The gender of a baby can be predicted by how the mother carries the baby— high (girl) or low (boy)

The breath from a baby's mouth can be stole by a cat.

Wearing shoes will be help a baby learn to walk sooner.

If a baby's hair are cutted before his first birthday, he will have "bad" hair.

If a pregnant woman reaches above her head, the umbilical cord is going to be wrapped around the baby's head.

A baby who is tickled too much will stutter.

A baby's lungs won't be developed unless it is allowed to cry.

A baby born in the daylight hours were conceived during the night time and a baby born in the night time hours were conceived during the day.

The soul of the baby will be taken away if it sees its reflection in a mirror before the age of one.

Calling a baby by its name before it is christened is bad luck.

"Old Wives' Tales." Kids Health. 2014. Web. 2 Jan 2014. <kidshealth.org/parent/general/aches/old_wives_tales.html>.   

christen (V) – to formal take a name in a religious service; baptize in a church

conceive (V) – begin life inside the mother

develop (V) – grow or expand

lungs (N) – organs that take air into the body and break it down for use in the body

soul (N) – the spiritual being

stutter (V) a brain disorder that affects a person's ability to produce speech without repeating initial sounds of words.

tickle (V) – lightly touch sensitive parts of the body and cause to laugh

umbilical cord (N) – the cord that attaches the fetus (the baby) to the mother's uterus, and which transports nourishment from mother to baby

 

 

 

 

Correct or Incorrect?

  1. Determine whether the comment is grammatically correct. Select the option correct or incorrect.
  2. Compare your responses to the answers by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 11-20" button at the bottom.

 

11.
The gender of a baby can be predicted by how the mother carries the baby— high (girl) or low (boy).

     

12.
The breath from a baby's mouth can be stole by a cat.

       

13.
Wearing shoes will be help a baby learn to walk sooner.

     

14.
If a baby's hair are cutted before his first birthday, he will have "bad" hair.

     

15.
If a pregnant woman reaches above her head, the umbilical cord is going to be wrapped around the baby's head.

     

16.
A baby who is being tickle too much will stutter.

     

17.
A baby's lungs won't be developed unless it is allowed to cry.

     

18.
A baby born in the daylight hours were conceived during the night time and a baby born in the night time hours were conceived during the day.

     

19.
The soul of the baby will be taken away if it sees its reflection in a mirror before the age of one.

     

20.
Calling a baby by its name before it christened is bad luck.

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 3

Amazing Newborns

The startle "moro" reflex of a newborn
 

 

Read Context

Using active verbs rather than passive verbs is always preferred because active verbs are more dynamic. However, if the subject is unspecific anyone ("in general" an impersonal pronoun) the writer may choose to switch to passive in order to focus on the more interesting content: the recipient of the action. In informal speech, the pronoun you, is also used when speaking in general. Read the following paragraph and consider where and how to change the focus away from you.

A newborn baby is an amazing creature.  Many reflexes he or she is born with help the baby to survive. For example, if you lift the baby and don't support the head of baby, the arms of the baby will thrust outward. Also, if you touch a baby's palm with your finger, his fingers will curl around your finger with a strong grip. The opposite occurs when you touch the sole of a baby's foot.  The toes will stretch outward. A baby has an innate sucking reflex.  When you put the tip of your finger on the baby's lips, he will open his mouth to suck. This is an important reflex for feeding. 

Similarly, when you hold a baby and you touch her cheek, the baby will turn toward you with an open mouth. This is called "rooting" and it is useful for breastfeeding.  Another surprising reflex occurs when you suspend the baby and place the feet on a flat surface. The baby will naturally take steps. This "stepping" reflex disappears around four months of age. Another curious response happens when you lay a baby on her back. As she turns her head, the arm and leg on the same side will reach out while the arm and leg on the opposite side will bend. This is called the "tonic" reflex because the baby's position is like that of a fencer. Perhaps, the most surprising reflex is swimming.  A baby will naturally hold his breath when you gently pull him under water. Parents often reinforce this reflex with early swimming lessons before reflex will disappear. Together, these survival reflexes help a newborn transition into life to become strong healthy viable individuals.

Weiss, Robin Elise, "How Newborn Reflexes Help Babies Survive." About.com Pregnancy & Childbirth. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Jan. 2014.<pregnancy.about.com/od/newborntesting>   

curl (V) – form a curved shape, wrap in a circle

fencer (N) – a person who does the sport of "fencing" in which an épée, foil, or saber is used for defense and attack.

grip (N) – hold

innate (Adj) – existing from birth; inborn; native

reflex (N) – an involuntary  response to a stimulus or touch

reinforce (V) – to strengthen with added practice

sole (N) – the bottom of a shoe or a foot

survival (Adj) – able to live, continue to exist

thrust (v) – to push something forcibly

viable (Adj) – physically fit to live

 

Also see  Impersonal "you"

 

 

 

 

Change the wording with you to wording that focuses on the baby and his /her reflexes.

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check 21-30" button at the bottom, or click the "Check" button to the left  as you go.

 

21.
For example, if you lift the baby and you don't support the head of baby, the arms of the baby will thrust outward.


22.
Also, if you touch a baby's palm with your finger, his fingers will curl around your finger with a strong grip.


23.
The opposite occurs when you touch the sole of a baby's foot.


24.
When you put the tip of your finger on the baby's lips, he will open his mouth to suck.


25.
Similarly, when you hold a baby and you touch her cheek, the baby will turn to you with an open mouth.


26.
Another surprising reflex occurs when you suspend the baby and place her feet on a flat surface.


27.
Another curious response happens when you lay a baby on her back.



Lie vs. Lay
28.
A baby will naturally hold his breath when you gently pull him under water.


29.
Parents often reinforce this reflex with early swimming lessons before reflex will disappear.


30.
Together, these survival reflexes help a newborn transition into life to become strong, healthy viable individuals.