The Passive Voice Essay

2583 words - 10 pages

The Passive Voice

The English language has two voices--the active and the passive. The active voice and the passive voice differ in that a passive verb phrase has an additional auxiliary BE followed by an EN participle. In a sense, the English passive is "inflexible" when compared to the passive formation of other languages. For example, some languages use word order, verb inflections, and impersonal constructions to form the passive voice. In their book, The Grammar Book: ESL/EFL Teacher's Course, Celce-Murcia and Larson-Freeman demonstrate how the Bantu passive voice differs from the English passive voice. "Kingarwanda, a Bantu language, can make even a locative phrase the subject of the passive as in On the bus was eaten a sandwich by John, which would not be acceptable in English" (221). Furthermore, topicalization is another "grammar issue" which differs from language to language. In the Kingarwanda sentence, On the bus was eaten a sandwich by John, the center of attention or the topic of the sentence is the phrase On the bus. Since languages have different rules which govern topicalization, several languages may not accept On the bus as the topic of a sentence. In the book, Clear and Coherent Prose, William Vande Kopple discusses topicalization in the English language. Kopple states that the English language uses topicalizers to "fulfill special functions in essays" (41). Several of these functions are: focusing the reader's attention on a specific part of a sentence, expressing given or "old" information at the beginning of a sentence, marking changes in topics, and lastly, setting contrasts between one topic and another (41).

Since there are differences in topicalization and the formation of the passive voice, non-native speakers may have trouble with English usage rules. On the other hand, students of a foreign language can benefit by comparing the usage rules of their native tongue to the usage rules of a foreign tongue. In order to better understand the usage rules of the English passive voice, it is necessary to begin by examining the most common grammatical function order of English sentences, subject-verb-object.

Active and passive sentences

Subject-verb-object (S-V-O) is the basic structure of English sentences and defines the grammatical function order of active voice sentences. For example, I can handle Mary is a sentence in the active voice which demonstrates the S-V-O pattern. However, S-V-O is not the only sentence pattern of the English language; object-verb-subject (O-V-S) is an alternative pattern. For example, Mary, I can handle produces an O-V-S pattern.

In addition to the grammatical function of a sentence such as subject, verb, and object, each noun phrase in a sentence has a semantic role. Semantic roles are discussed in Finegan and Besnier's chapter on semantics (171). Several of the semantic roles Finegan and Besnier list are: agent, patient, experiencer, instrument, and locative (200)....

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