Passive Voice, the monster in all job tests.
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When the British were in India, they managed the office work with Indians. Thus the kind of English they tried to teach and spread was mostly the formal, official version. The Indians had to be taught how to manage official correspondence in English.
In Indian languages, rearranging a word in a sentence may not change the meaning at all. Whichever word that needs to be emphasised can be placed in the beginning of the sentence mostly without making any other change at all. But, in English it is be a problem.
All official work is collective responsibility. Thus, we don’t even mention the name of the person who actually did it. We simply say that ‘it got done’, or ‘it was done.’
The active person who did the actual action, for example, the person who published the results of an examination, the real person who took the results to the press, the PRO, becomes unimportant and not even mentioned.
The results were published.
(Not ‘The PRO, Mr. Joseph, published the results.)
For this merely reversing the sentence as we do in Indian languages is not enough. It is a different structure. The passive entity, in this case the results which didn’t do a thing at all, is given importance by placing it in the beginning of the sentence. It does not start with the person who was actively doing it. His name is not even there. May be it can appear at the very end, as in,
The minister was welcomed by the MLA.
The bridges were built by the Neo Builders.
This structure in which the passive entity gets more importance is called the passive voice. Today, it is considered too formal and stilted as communication became more democratic. It is considered the short cut ‘to sound formal’. If a letter has to sound formal, we only have to use the passive voice more often in it.
However it is very useful. This is the structure that helps children announce that the window was broken without confessing that they broke the window. This is the structure that helps the newspapers to reveal that a girl was abused without revealing that it was an influential celebrity who abused the girl. We are born and buried in passive voice.
Passive voice becomes a household world not because of any of these reasons but because it is unsuccessfully taught for several years. Here is an easy way to master it based on your common sense and your knowledge of the previous lessons.
Do you remember the first five magical words, the operatives?
is are am was were
Add the three forma of be to this
be been being
Now, we have eight of them
is are am was were be been being
(They all look different, but they are all just different forms of ‘be’)
Is this list hard to memorise in any order of your choice? Just eight words.
All you have to do is make sure that ONE of them is ADDED to the active voice sentence and you are sure to get it right.
I will write a letter.
Begin with ‘A letter’ and use the operative ‘will’
A letter will..
Now, which of those words will fit here? Just plain common sense. Don’t worry about the rules. If you were able to follow this much of English, you don’t need rules here. You are sure to be right.
Now, completer it.
A letter will be written by me.
This way of doing things is called ‘playing it by the ear’. If it sound right, it is right.
He is writing a letter.
A letter is ….
When you use the word ‘written’ don’t throw away the ‘ing’ part of ‘writing’. Add ‘ing’ to ‘be’ and use that one.
A letter is being written by him.
The rules that you have learned so far should also be applied here.
Look, what if this is…
He is writing letters.
We can start with letters, but we can’t use ‘is’. There is that subject-verb agreement problem. In other words, there is an ‘s’ at the end of ‘letters’ and at the end of ‘is’. No, that won’t work. So, use another word for ‘is’, the one that goes with plurals, the one that does not end in ‘s’.
Letters ARE being written by him.
Now, have fun doing exercises to test yourself and master this forever.
Change into passive voice or begin with the underlined word.
They will play cricket.
She will rescue the victim.
We will save some money.
They have built a house.
She has planned her journey.
We had finished our work.
Most of them were reading books.
Some of my friends are writing stories.
She is singing a song.
He is repairing his bike.
My classmates are presenting their projects.
We have brought some gifts for you.
We have developed a scheme to help the poor.
They will sing the same song.
The lumberjacks have felled several trees.
He completed his work. (You don’t see an operative here, so forget it. Just choose a right word from the eight word list.)
We supported him.
They made a movie.
Here is the text of an informal business correspondence. Make it as formal as possible using a change in voice.
I bought some books from your shop yesterday. When I took them home, I found that someone had torn most of the pages. So, I am sending back those books. I am requesting you to look into the matter. You may return the money. Or, I will file a complaint against you.
PS: You should acknowledge the receipt of this letter.
Now read both the texts and listen to the difference.