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HD: Pullum on the Passive
Posted: 25 January 2011 03:45 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This must be read.

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Posted: 25 January 2011 04:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Albert Einstein is reported to have once said, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

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Posted: 25 January 2011 08:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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This confirms what I’ve always suspected: that my class in primary school (an ordinary government school recruiting students from a working-class area) must have been very precocious.  We all grasped what a passive was before we were aged twelve, without needing to read anything as long or as complicated as that.

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Posted: 25 January 2011 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I wonder if that could be described as “passive-aggressive”?

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Posted: 25 January 2011 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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If I’d known English grammar was so involved, I think I’d have picked some other language - preferably, a language as easy as PIE (feeble play on words intended ;-). Thank goodness one doesn’t need grammar to think with - or does one? Have to think about that.

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Posted: 25 January 2011 11:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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We all grasped what a passive was before we were aged twelve, without needing to read anything as long or as complicated as that.

Except that what you grasped was undoubtedly oversimplified and did not correspond to the facts of the language, which take a fair amount of time to lay out and to absorb.  Grammar isn’t easy to explain (though it is easy to use).

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Posted: 25 January 2011 01:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The teacher’s (and textbook’s) presentation could also be shorter and simpler because it wasn’t intended to overcome mistaken (but rigidly held) notions about what the passive was.

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Posted: 25 January 2011 01:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Quick quiz. Which of these sentences are passive? (There may be more than one.)

1) There were a great number of dead leaves on the ground.

2) At dawn the crowing of the rooster could be heard.

3) The reason he left college was that his health became impaired.

4) It was not long before she was very sorry that she had said what she had.

All these sentences are given as examples of the passive in Strunk and White, showing that even those who proclaim themselves as expert often don’t know the passive when it smacks them in the face. Only the second is passive, but S & W thought they all were. Orwell, who also decried the passive, had trouble recognizing it. Despite the fact that he claimed to abhor it, he used it about twice as often as other writers of his era.

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Posted: 25 January 2011 02:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Point taken, but before the baby is thrown out with the bathwater, or we get sidetracked into wondering why the road was crossed by the chicken,
let’s remember why Strunk wrote “the little book”.  It was a style guide, full of examples of what not to write.  All the examples quoted, passive and active,
are, to use a neo-linguistic term, crappy.

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Posted: 25 January 2011 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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"Our grumbling about how these people don’t know their passive from a hole in the ground, we have received mail from many people who want a clear and simple explanation of what a passive clause is.”

Seems an odd sentence.

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Posted: 25 January 2011 03:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Good article, though.

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Posted: 26 January 2011 12:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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even those who proclaim themselves as expert often don’t know the passive when it smacks them in the face

They should have gone to my school.  Their perception wouldn’t have been muddied by complicated linguistic arguments.

[Which brings me to a major rant which I’m airing solely because it’s a pet peeve of mine - educationalists looking for recognition or reward who change education systems when one works well for most students.  Not all students, admittedly, as those with special needs (those with various syndromes, the gifted, etc etc) need a different kind of help.  One system will never fit all, however good it is, but what we have isn’t better than what we had.]

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Posted: 26 January 2011 01:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Good on you, ElizaD, as they say D.U.

Bernard Shaw once said: “Those who can, do; those who can’t - teach”. This is debatable - but if he’d said “those who can’t teach - become educationalists”, I’d have tended to agree.  Far too many of the people I’ve known who make decisions about education, couldn’t educate themselves out of a paper bag. They do harm to untold thousands of children.

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Posted: 26 January 2011 03:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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It is commonplace in Australia to blame the unions for this.

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Posted: 26 January 2011 03:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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BTW, anyone with me about this?

“Our grumbling about how these people don’t know their passive from a hole in the ground, we have received mail from many people who want a clear and simple explanation of what a passive clause is.”

Is that an acceptable sentence?

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Posted: 26 January 2011 04:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Our grumbling about how these people don’t know their passive from a hole in the ground, we have received mail from many people who want a clear and simple explanation of what a passive clause is.

I’m guessing it’s missing “[After] our grumbling...” Eliding words is a common error, especially in blogging where speed trumps proofreading capabilities.

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