Jan. 22, 2013
KISS Level 5.7 - Passive Voice
and Retained Complements
in KISS Level 5.7
1 a and b, Identifying Passive Voice
Passive Voice or Predicate Adjective?
3 a - d, Rewriting from Passive Voice into Active and from Active
4, Simple Retained Complements
5, Retained Complements - Clauses
6, Retained Complements - Infinitives
|Ex. 7, Retained
Complements - Mixed
|Ex. 8, "To
be to" - Ellipsed Passive plus an Infinitive?
9, A Passage for Analysis
10, Treasure Hunt
Why Teach (or Study) Active and Passive Voice?
The active / passive voice distinction is not
central to sentence structure it is not primarily a question of nexus
or modification. This means that students do not need the distinction in
order to explain how every word in any sentence chunks to the main S/V/C
pattern. Why then should they learn it? There are two answers to that question.
First, it is important to good reading. Passive voice eliminates the "doer"
of the action expressed in the verb and thereby side-steps the question
Taxes were raised.
A bomb was dropped.
Workers were laid off.
People who recognize passive voice are much more likely to ask "Who raised
the taxes?" "Who dropped the bomb?" "Who laid off the workers?" And, in
turn, the "Who?" question leads to "Why?" Some teachers believe that the
ability to recognize passive voice makes students more responsible readers
and more effective citizens.
Unfortunately, other teachers forbid the use
of passive voice. This is somewhat silly in that these teachers forbid
the use of passive voice in a context in which most students can't recognize
passive voice in the first place. The result is that the teachers object
to passive voice, when they recognize it in the students' writing, but
students, not understanding, simply do what the teacher says and shrug
off the question. Thus, the second reason for teaching passive voice, especially
in a KISS context, is to enable students to understand and even object
to what these extremist teachers are demanding.
If passive voice did not have an important
function in the language, it would not exist in the first place. There
are, as noted above, many cases in which the doer of the action is not
known. But there are many cases in which the doer is either obvious or
irrelevant, for example, "In this restoration project, the houses on Liberty
Street will be torn down." And there are cases in which the flow and focus
of the information makes the passive more effective "Tom Jones died Wednesday.
He was killed in an automobile accident." The focus here is on Tom Jones,
and thus putting "He" in the subject position makes much more sense than
does "An automobile accident killed him." Instead of simply forbidding
passive voice, teachers should enable students to recognize it, and then
discuss the options and the effects of these options that passive voice
provides. Virginia Tufte presents an excellent explanation of the advantages
of passive voice (plus numerous examples) in her Artful Sentences: Syntax
as Style. (Graphics Press, 2006).
The Exercises in this Level
Exercises 1 a and b - Identifying Passive Voice
As suggested above, the main problem in the
teaching of passive voice is that students are not taught how to identify
verbs in the first place. By the time they get to this KISS Level, however,
most students should be experts at identifying subjects and finite verbs.
Thus recognizing passives should be relatively easy -- and meaningful.
The first two exercises in this level simply help students recognize passive
verbs as passives.
Exercise 2 - Passive Verb or Predicate Adjective?
The passive voice slides into predicate adjectives.
For examples, consider two sentences:
a.) The ground was always frozen in the winter.
In (a.) "was frozen" is passive in form, but rarely, if ever, would anyone
state who or what froze it. The focus of the sentence is on the state (condition)
of the ground. Thus, although the verb form is passive, we can justifiably
consider "frozen" a predicate adjective. Sentence (b.), however, is definitely
a passive verb because its active version is "A friend told Bill that."
b.) Bill was told that by a friend.
When they are first learning to identify verb
phrases, many students will mark "told" as a predicate adjective. To address
this problem, Exercise 9 back in Level
1.2 (Adding Complements) pushed students to underline twice all passive
verb forms. There, in other words, they were encouraged to underline both
"was frozen" and "was told" twice. Here, however, students should be ready
to understand and discuss the distinction.
Exercises 3 a - d - Rewriting from Passive to Active or Active to
Seeing and manipulating are, of course, two
different things. Exercises 4 and 5 give students sentences in one voice
and ask them to rewrite in the other. There are actually four exercises
here. Exercises 4a and 4b are relatively simple sentences not based on
real texts. These exercises are included in the books for every grade level.
Exercises 5a and 5b are based on real texts and are different in every
grade level book.
Exercise 4 through 7 - Retained Complements
In a sentence such as "Sally was given a reward,"
"reward" is considered a retained complement, retained from the active
voice version, "They gave Sally a reward." In analyzing randomly selected
sentences you will probably find that most retained complements are either
infinitives or subordinate clauses. Thus KISS includes exercises that focus
on each of these, followed by a "mixed" exercise.
Exercise 8 - "To be to"
In analyzing randomly selected sentences, you
may frequently run into cases of "to be" plus an infinitive. They
involve ellipsis and can be explained in two ways. Depending on the context,
they can be explained as active voice:
I was to sleep in my own stall.
I was *going* to sleep in my own stall.
or as passives with infinitives as retained direct objects:
I was *expected* to sleep in my own stall.
The passive explanation is preferable when the context suggests that the
subject is constrained because someone else is doing the expecting, supposing,
ordering, etc. (I have never seen a grammar textbook deal with these.)
Exercise 9 - A Passage for Analysis
Thoughtful readers probably noticed that several
of the points made above suggest that context is important for understanding
passive voice. That is the objective of these exercises.
Exercise - 10 - A Treasure Hunt
As noted, some teachers tell students not to
use passive voice. This exercise, which is the same in each grade level,
invites students to find passages that contain passive voice and to explore
when and why actual writers (and speakers) use it.
Suggested directions for analysis exercises:
1. Place parentheses ( ) around each prepositional phrase.
2. Underline finite verbs twice, their subjects once, and label complements
("PA," "PN," "IO," or "DO").
3. Place brackets [ ] around each subordinate clause. If the clause
functions as a noun, label its function. If it functions as an adverb,
draw an arrow from the opening bracket to the word that the clause modifies.
4. Place a vertical line after each main clause.
5. Write P over every passive verb phrase.
in KISS Level 5.7
The following two exercises are exercises 3a and b in each of the grade-level
The following exercises are exercises 3c and d in the indicated
This exercise is currently the same in all the grade-level books.
3 a - d -- Rewriting Sentences
from Passive Voice into Active and from Active
5 -- Retained Complements - Clauses
6 -- Retained Complements - Infinitives
7 -- Retained Complements - Mixed
9 -- A Passage for Analysis
10 -- Treasure Hunt
|Treasure Hunt: In a newspaper, story,
or book, find a passage in which the author uses passive voice more than
once. Bring it to class so that you can discuss it with your classmates.
For each passive verb, see if you and your classmates can explain why the
author used passive instead of active.