skip navigation

By Phrases

Focusing on Known Information

detective with magnifying glass

 

 

Including a By-Phrase

IDENTIFYING INFORMATION

A passive clause permits the focus to be placed on the known information.  A by-phrase with the agent (source of the action) is included only when it  adds identifying, important information. Usage note.

IDENTIFIED / KNOWN

An emergency call was received by the police late last night. 

An emergency call was received by Officer Ryan.                  

REVEALED

A young child was taken by a stranger.

The victim was found by a neighbor.

The child was hugged by her mother.

NONIDENTIFYING INFORMATION

A by-phrase is not included (1) when it adds repetitive, unimportant, or unspecific information (someone, anyone); (2) when the speaker is avoiding mention of the agent. (e.g., Mistakes were made.)

UNIDENTIFIED / UNKNOWN

An emergency call was received [by someone] late last night.

An emergency call was received [by a person ] late last night.

NOT REVEALED / AVOIDED

A young child was taken [by someone].

The victim was found [by an unknown person]. 

The child was abused [by unnamed person] .

 

kidnapper (n.) –person who steals children or young adults
abuse (v.) –mistreated
victim (n.) – person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action

 

 

 

 

 

By-phrase

Reasons for Including One

 

 

Known vs. Unknown

Nu au plateau de sculpteur) 1932A Work of Art

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Title: Nude, Green leaves and Bust
Year: 1932
Subject:  Marie-Thérèse
Medium: oil
Location: Tate Museum
Style: Cubism-Surrealism

Street artGraffiti (also a work of art)

Artist: ?
Title: ?
Year: ~2004
Subject: girl
Medium: spray paint
Location: street wall in Vienna
Style: Cubism-Surrealism

 

 

 

Reasons to Include / Not Include a By-phrase

INCLUDE A BY-PHRASE
SOMEONE IDENTIFIED

This work of art was painted by Pablo Picasso in 1932.

AGENT IS KNOWN

Picasso was adored by Marie-Thérèse, his mistress and muse.

NOT MENTIONED YET

This painting was titled Nu au plateau de sculpteur by Picasso.

IMPORTANT / SHARES THE FOCUS

Cubism was developed by Picasso and Braque from African styles of art.

PERSONAL ANYONE AT ANYTIME

This painting was kept by Pablo Picasso until his death.

WANT TO SAY

This painting was kept by Pablo Picasso until his death.

DON'T INCLUDE A BY-PHRASE
SOMEONE KNOWN BUT NOT IDENTIFIED

This wall art was painted [by a graffiti artist] in 2004.

AGENT IS UNKNOWN

This wall art was photographed  [by someone] on a wall in Vienna.

ALREADY MENTIONED/ REPETITIVE

This wall image was posted [by the photographer] on the Internet.

UNIMPORTANT / NOT THE FOCUS

Spray cans were used [by someone] to apply the paint rapidly to the wall.                

IMPERSONAL ANYONE AT ANYTIME

These photographs of graffiti can be seen [by anyone] online.

WOULD RATHER NOT SAY

The wall was vandalized [by X] at 3 a.m. in the morning.

 

muse (n.) – subject (person) of intrigue, an admired person
graffiti (pl) / graffita (sing.) – street wall art; "illegal art" 
spray paint (n.) paint applied with an aerosol can

¹ Because painting on public property is considered vandalism, destruction of property and a minor crime, graffiti artists keep their identities unknown.

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

ERROR SOLUTION

The actress was dressed by a white chiffon dress.

The actress was dressed by Dior.  (formal occasion)

The actress was dressed in Givenchy(was wearing a particular designer)

The actress was dressed in a white chiffon dress  (adjective)

If you can use seem  or appear in place of be, then it is an adjective not a passive form..

Jack went to his boss's office where he was asked by his boss to take on more responsibility.

Jack went to his boss's office where he was asked [omit] to…

Not incorrect but repetitive

Related page Possessive Nouns

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Passive Uses and Terms

 

 

 

USAGE TERMS

Reporting information with active verbs is preferred whenever possible because

  • the inclusion of the agent(s) is more personal
  • the use of active verbs is more dynamic

 

A writer will switch to the passive: 

  • for parallel phrasing (like wording),
  • to transition smoothly from the subject of one sentence to the next,
  • to avoid mentioning an agent that is unknown, unidentified, or secret.

 

A by-phrase is used when:  

  • the receiver (object or indirect object) is the focus
  • the agents are too many to list (a project)
  • the agent(s) is/ are unknown
  • the agent is not specific (everyone in general)
  • the agent is secret / not being revealed

 

active verb – a dynamic verb, one with action (not a static verb or copula (e.g., be, seem, appear, etc.)

agent (n.) – the person/thing doing or causing the action

focus (n.) – a central point, as of attraction, attention, interest or activity

indirect object – the person receiving the object of the action.  (e.g., He gave the baby a bottle.)

intransitive verb – a verb that does not take an object as its complement (e.g., He lies down.)

receiver / recipient (n.) - the person/thing affected by the action

static verb – a verb that is not dynamic; it does not take an object  See Never Passive.

transitive verb – a verb that takes an object as its complement (e.g., He lay the baby down.)

 

 

 

 

Resources 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

The Daily Gossip

couple

 

 

Read the Context

Last week, golfer Leon Woods was seen with a famous Winter Olympics athlete. The two were spotted entering a party in Manhattan. Our insider said that the couple looked uncomfortable. Leon was dressed in a dark suit and his companion in an evening gown. His 28-year-old blond companion was quickly escorted through the crowd before photographers could snap pictures.

Once inside, the couple was seated at the bar. Our insider reports that the two were engaged in conversation throughout the evening. As the drinks took effect, Leon supposedly got up and danced awkwardly; she laughed but became upset as the evening went on. After Leon fell down, he was helped up and pulled toward a waiting limousine. Leon was described as a little tipsy. The two became friends after he divorced two years ago.

engage (v.) – interact, give attention to something or someone; (adj.) – busy or occupied

escort (v.) – to guide a person; accompany a person, safeguard a person

insider (expression) – a person also invited to an event who watches and tells

staff (n.) – workers employed by a company, and in this case a magazine, or news agency

tipsy (adj.) – unstable; having difficulty walking, drunk

 

 

 

 

 

Decide whether the by-clause adds important information.

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

 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Tornado

tornado
 

 

Read the Context

This weekend's tornado proved to be a very destructive one.  Trees were ripped out of the ground by the twister.  Houses were torn to pieces, and cars were hurled high into the air.  Two people died when they were hit by broken glass. Residents were assisted by the Red Cross. They were provided with shelter and food by the Red Cross until they could return to their homes.

The town was declared a disaster area by the President.  It was announced by FEMA officials that FEMA would offer financial assistance in rebuilding.

Remarkably, a three-month old baby was found safe under a bathtub by a search and rescue dog. The mother of the child was killed by the tornado.  The newborn was recovered by her grandparents.

hurl (v.) – throw with great force

recover (v.) – to obtain or take lawfully

remarkably (adv.) – surprisingly

tornado (n.) – a destructive, violent windstorm with a funnel shaped cloud, a twister

 

 

 

 

Include or omit the by-clause?

  1. Select a response: include it or omit it (don't include it)
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check 11-20" button at the bottom, or click the "Check" button to the left  as you go.

 

11.
This weekend's tornado proved to be a very destructive one.  Trees were ripped out of the ground by the twister.

     

12.
Houses were torn to pieces, and cars were hurled high into the air by the winds.

       

13.
Two people died when they were hit by broken glass.

     

14.
Residents were assisted by the Red Cross

     

15.
They were provided with shelter and food by the Red Cross until they could return to their homes.

     

16.
The town was declared a disaster area by the President.

     

17.
It was announced by FEMA officials that FEMA would offer financial assistance in rebuilding.

     

18.
Remarkably, a three-month old baby was found alive under a bathtub by a search and rescue dog.

     

19.
Unfortunately, the mother of the child had been killed by the tornado.

     

20.
The newborn was recovered by her grandparents.

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 3

Title

 

 

 

Read for Errors

Art Heist 

One night in 1990, only two watchmen were responsible for guarding hundreds of millions of dollars of art at the Gardner Museum. One could say the job was pretty uneventful, even boring.

But on St. Patrick’s Day weekend in 1990, the watchmen’s usual routine was dramatically changed by two thieves. Two men who were dressed as Boston Police officers rang the doorbell. Going against rules, a watchman let them into the museum. Within minutes he and the other watchman were tied up by the thieves, who had free reign over the museum.

On this night, these two thieves would pull off the greatest art heist in history. It is considered by many the biggest property theft ever. By the time the burglars left the museum, over 500 million dollars of art was gone by them.

More than two decades later, visitors to the museum can still see the empty frames of the stolen paintings that hang on the walls. They are reminders of a spectacular crime.

 

To this day, the art work has never been found, the thieves never caught. And more puzzling is the fact that none of the 13 works of art have ever been sold by anyone as far as investigators can tell.

Why would these criminals steal valuable works of art if they weren’t going to make any money off of them? Why they did it is a mystery that is still unanswered by the FBI.

And who were these thieves? Now on the 23rd anniversary of the crime, the FBI says they know who did it. However, the 20 year statute of limitation has expired, which means the thieves can no longer be prosecuted for their crime by the government.

Now, 23 years later, the museum just wants its art back.  A big announcement was made by museum officials saying that they know who stole the art. They want the private collector, thieves, or person storing them to come forward and make a deal. Museum officials are hoping that the art will voluntarily be surrendered.

"Tonight on AC360: 81 Minutes: Inside the Greatest Art Heist in History." Anderson Cooper 360 RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Jan. 2014.<ac360.blogs.cnn.com>

expire (v.) – pass away, not within a specific time

free reign – free rule, freedom to go where they pleased

puzzling (adj.) – confusing

surrender (v.) – give up (return to the rightful owner)

 

 

 

 

Edit for Errors

  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.
But on St. Patrick’s Day weekend in 1990, the watchmen’s usual routine was dramatically changed by two thieves. Two men who were dressed as Boston Police officers rang the doorbell.


22.
Going against rules, a watchman let them into the museum. Within minutes he and the other watchman were tied up by the thieves, who had free reign over the museum.


23.
It is considered by many the biggest property theft ever.


24.
By the time the burglars left the museum, over 500 million dollars of art was gone by them.


25.
To this day, the art work has never been found and the thieves never caught by anyone.


26.
And more puzzling is the fact that none of the 13 works of art have ever been sold by anyone as far as investigators can tell.


27.
Why they did it is a mystery that is still unanswered by the FBI.


28.
And who were these thieves? Now on the 23rd anniversary of the crime, the FBI says they know who did it. However, the 20 statute of limitation has expired, which means the thieves can no longer be prosecuted for their crime by the government.


29.
A big announcement was made by museum officials saying that they know who stole the art.


30.
Museum officials are hoping that the art will voluntarily be surrendered by someone.