Archive for the ‘Active/Passive Voice’ Category

WHO addition confuses sentence + Answer to participle question

Monday, April 18th, 2011

I apologize for the unscheduled hiatus this week. I made the grave mistake of going out of town with my IPad and without my password codes.

Now, back to the Grammar Glitches. Today's Glitch comes from an article in Sunday's The Birmingham News about the devastating storms that raged across the South. I offer sincere condolences to all who were affected, including the families of seven people killed here in Alabama.

#1–Here is a 40-word sentence that became quite confusing because Associated Press reporter Tom Breen inserted the word WHO in a place that didn't make sense:

In the town of Sanford in central North Carolina, what could have been a deadly catastrophe was averted when a Lowe's hardware store manager who saw the approaching storm and corralled over 100 people to the back of the store.

The simplest fix for this sentence is to remove the word WHO. Then the sentence makes sense. If I were editing, I would suggest another change to improve the sentence even further. It is always a good idea to avoid passive voice when possible. Here we have COULD HAVE BEEN followed by WAS AVERTED for a double helping of passive voice. I'd suggest making the store manager the subject for a more direct approach and the elimination of one passive voice verb.

Here is my revision:

In the town of Sanford in central North Carolina, a Lowe's hardware store manager averted what could have been a deadly catastrophe when he saw the approaching storm and corralled over 100 people to the back of the store.

Hats off to this quick-thinking manager who probably saved many lives.

#2–Here is the participle question from last week: What is the difference between "All chairs are taken" and "All chairs were taken"? The reader wanted to know why ARE could be used with TAKEN if TAKEN is the past participle. I am sure this is confusing for non-native speakers of English.

Here is my answer: Both ARE TAKEN and WERE TAKEN are passive voice, and both are correct. ALL CHAIRS ARE TAKEN would be used in the present progressive sense. At the time (in the present) that I enter (present tense) the room, no chairs are available, so ALL CHAIRS ARE TAKEN. 

WERE TAKEN is past tense and would suggest that, when I entered (past tense) the room at a time in the past, ALL THE CHAIRS WERE already TAKEN.

 

Stop by again tomorrow to consider the latest epidemic of subject/verb agreement Glitches.


Place verbs on a “mental” time line.

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Verbs express action, and the reader should be able to understand easily when one action happens in relationship to another action.  With all the different tenses, that is not always easy to do.

My thanks to one of my readers for letting me use some example sentences from his writing about chess to illustrate this point.  Here is the first one:

When my father saw me one afternoon playing chess with my classmate, he hurriedly approach me and on that day he taught me how to play the right and serious way….

The first verb in this sentence is SAW (past tense). From that verb we know that the afternoon referred to has already occurred.  The second verb is APPROACH. If this verb were in the Present tense and used with HE, it would be written APPROACHES, but since the father SAW (past tense), the correct form would be APPROACHED (past tense) because the father APPROACHED on the same afternoon that he SAW. The third verb TAUGHT is correct because it is in the Past tense. The sentence should read this way:

When my father saw me playing chess one afternoon with my classmate, he hurriedly approached me, and on that day he taught me how to play the right and serious way….

Notice that I moved "one afternoon" to a smoother place in the sentence and added a comma after ME.

 

Here is the second sentence:

He didn't stop until I understand the proper use and value of my chess pieces.

The first verb in this sentence is DID STOP, which is Past tense. Therefore, UNDERSTOOD should also be in the Past tense because the chess player learned the proper use at a point in the past, not in the present. This sentence should read this way:

He didn't stop until I understood the proper use and value of my chess pieces.

 

Here is one more tip about verb use in sentences.  Take a look at this sentence:

 From beginner tactics to intermediate plans, all the fundamentals of chess were taught within a month by my father .

There is nothing grammatically incorrect about this sentence, but because it uses the Passive Voice (WERE TAUGHT), it does what I like to call "going around your elbow to say what you mean." It would be much more effective in the Active Voice.  This can be done by making MY FATHER the subject of the sentence as follows:

 From beginner tactics to intermediate plans, my father taught me all the fundamentals of chess within a month .

I think most readers would agree that this is more direct and easier to read.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

 


CONTEND and CONTENT have totally different meanings.

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Here is another sentence gem from The Birmingham News this past week:

Goforth also contented that he felt that Superintendent Craig might be getting pressured by certain board members to make that recommendation and not on his own.

 Whew!  What a mess

–First of all, CONTENTED is an incorrect word choice.  CONTENT, when used as a verb, means to satisfy.  The correct verb here would be CONTEND, which means to argue from a certain point of view.  Goforth is presenting the argument that the superintendent might be getting pressure about his decision.

–Second, as I often suggest in my business writing workshops, one of the THAT words here needs to go to what I call the THAT pasture.  THAT HE FELT THAT is just too wordy.  In this case, the phrase is also redundant because if Goforth CONTENDS that the superintendent is being pressured, then he feels that way, and it isn't necessary to say both things.

–Third, the last phrase in the sentence (highlighted in green) is confusing and not parallel.  I would reword this part completely to clarify the meaning.

–Fourth, whenever possible, I recommend using active voice (certain board members might be pressuring Superintendent Craig) instead of passive voice (Superintendent Craig might be getting pressured by certain board members…)

Here is my recommendation (on my own) for improving this sentence:

Goforth also contended that certain board members might be pressuring Superintendent Craig to make their recommendation rather than his own. 

Please let me know if you agree with my conclusions.  I CONTEND that they make the sentence easier to read.

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