English Corner – The Active Voice

Every writer has a voice but it’s important to be able to distinguish which is the correct voice to use depending upon the context. There are two main voices in English writing to be aware of: the active voice and the passive voice. In this ‘English Corner’ blog post, we will be focusing specifically on how to use the active voice in your writing, which means that the subject of the sentence is actually creating the action and not the other way around.

The ‘active voice’ adds more impact to your writing, which is why most writers use the active voice instead of the passive voice. Overall, I would argue that the active voice is more important than the passive voice yet you should know how to use both effectively as an English writer.

Active Voice Usage

Sentences written in an active voice flow better and are easier to understand. When you use the active voice, the emphasis is on the subject of the sentence, which is doing the action itself. This makes the sentence straightforward and concise. Examples are:

  • I really love this TV show.
  • Gorillas live in the jungle. 

Sentences that use a passive voice are often harder to understand. Passive voice can make a sentence awkward and vague. The emphasis of the sentence changes to the receiver of the action. Some examples are:

  • This TV show is loved by me.
  • The jungle is where the gorillas live.

Passive sentences usually have more words than active ones, which is one reason why the reader has to work harder to get the meaning of the sentence, and the sentence structure can seem disorderly. If you have a composition that is too difficult to understand, you may be able to change some passive sentences to active ones. Two examples are:

  • The electoral ballots were counted by the volunteers. (passive)
    The volunteers counted the electoral ballots. (active)
  • The flowers were stepped on by the dog. (passive)
    The dog stepped on the flowers. (active)

Active Voice Adds Impact to Your Writing

The active voice adds substantial impact to your sentence; however, you may sometimes want to use the passive voice to lessen the impact of your sentence.

  • Sometimes the active voice is used to deliberately obscure who is responsible for an action, like if a politician said, “Mistakes were made” or “Shots were fired.”
  • Businesses may use the passive voice to lessen their impact like “Your service will be shut off” which is passive, rather than “We are going to shut off your service.” which is active.
  • In crime reports, a policeman would write, “the bank was robbed” because he does not know who actually robbed the bank.
  • In a mystery novel, you may want to place the emphasis on what was taken, like “the jewels were taken” rather than focus on the unknown person who took them.

In most English sentences with an action verb, the subject performs the action denoted by the verb. These examples show that the subject is doing the verb’s action:

The boy must have eaten all of the hot dogs.

            The boy (subject) is doing the eating (verb).

Jennifer mailed him the love letter.

            Jennifer (subject) is doing the mailing (verb).

Colorful iguanas live in the Amazon rainforest.

            Iguanas (subject) are doing the living (verb).

Because the subject does or “acts upon” the verb in such sentences, the sentences are said to be in the active voice. As you go through an individual essay, article, or paper, please be sure to check that you are primarily using the active voice. The passive voice definitely has its place but if you are especially trying to be persuasive, make a congruent argument, or back up your hypothesis, then you should mainly be using the active voice in those types of writing. 

If you find that the ‘subject’ of your sentence is clearly not at the beginning and your action / object is taking its place, then your sentence is not an active one by a passive one instead. The active voice always places the subject within the first word or two at the beginning of the sentence so that the reader will be well aware of who is committing the action. Please keep in mind how to use the active voice in terms of the sentence structure, what the examples show above, and in which types of writing the active voice is mainly used. If you would like to take your English writing to the next level, you must first know what the active voice is and in a later ‘English Corner’ post, the passive voice will be discussed in terms of its usage and some examples.

Lastly, think of the ‘active voice’ and the ‘passive voice’ as the Yin and the Yang of English writing. Both have their separate and unique uses but you can’t only have one in your writing. You must be able to know how to use both because there cannot be one without the other. 

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English Corner – The Rules of Capitalization

Understanding the rules of capitalization is a key part of taking your English grammar understanding to a very advanced level. If you are able to know when, where, and how to capitalize letters and words correctly, you will definitely be ahead of most other English learners.

Some people may tell you that there are far more than just the main ten rules of capitalization in English, which may in fact be true. Other folks may say that there are only three rules of capitalization, and they may also be correct. However, The truth is that, depending on how you organize the rules, the rules of capitalization may be many or few based on how narrow or broad your definition of these rules are.

Most of the things we capitalize in English are what we refer to as ‘proper nouns.’ They are the names of specific and unique things.

  • If you are talking about one specific mountain (Mt. Fuji), state (Idaho) or street (Atlantic Avenue), use a capital letter for every word in the name.
  • However, when you are talking about a common thing of which there are many of them- like a mountain, a state or a street – you don’t have to use a capital letter for those words.

It’s important to remember as well that Capital letters are not used for articles (a, an, the) or for prepositions (of, on, for, in, to, with, etc.).

The Ten Main Rules

  1. Names or titles of people

This one may seem obvious, but there’s also a catch. Of course, you capitalize the first letters of a person’s first, middle and last names (John Quincy Adams), but you also capitalize suffixes (Jr., the Great, Princess of Power, etc.) and titles.

Titles can be as simple as Mr., Mrs. or Dr., but they also apply to situations wherein you address a person by his or her position as though it’s their first name. For example, when we talk about President Lincoln, we are using his role as though it were a part of his name. We don’t always capitalize the word president. Indeed, we could say, “During the Civil War, President Lincoln was the president of the United States.”

Another way to look at capitalizing job titles is to look at the position of the job title in the sentence in reference to the person’s name.

  • You should capitalize the title when it comes immediately before or after someone’s name.
  • You don’t have to capitalize the job title if it comes after the word “the.”

For example:  “Dr. Rogers was the Cardiac Surgeon.” “The cardiac surgeon allowed me to come into the room and observe the patient.”

  1. Names of mountains, mountain ranges, hills and volcanoes

Again, we’re talking about specific places. The word ‘hill’ is not a proper noun, but Bunker Hill is because it’s the name of one specific hill. Use a capital letter to begin each word in the name of a mountain (Mt. Olympus), mountain range (the Appalachians), hill (San Juan Hill) or volcano (Mt. Vesuvius).

  1. Names of bodies of water (rivers, lakes, oceans, seas, streams and creeks)

From here, it gets pretty easy. The same rules that apply to mountain names also apply to water names. A river is just a river, but the Mississippi River is a proper noun and must be capitalized, just like Lake Erie, the Indian Ocean and the Dead Sea.

  1. Names of buildings, monuments, bridges and tunnels

Man-made structures also often have names. The White House, The Eiffel Tower, The Statue of Liberty, The Golden Gate Bridge and The Lincoln Tunnel are a few good examples.

  1. Street names

It’s necessary to capitalize both the actual name part of the name (Capital) and the road part of the name (Boulevard); both are necessary for forming the entire name of the street (Capital Boulevard).

  1. Schools, colleges and universities

All of the words in the name of the educational institution should be capitalized. For example, Harvard University, Wilkesboro Elementary School, Cape Fear Community College.

  1. Political divisions (continents, regions, countries, states, counties, cities and towns)

As is the case with regions of a country, the divisions may not always be political, but you get the idea. When you refer to New England, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest or the South as a region (as opposed to a compass direction), you capitalize it. Also, continents (South America), countries (Belgium), states (Wisconsin), counties (Prince William County), cities (London) and towns (Lizard Lick) get capitalized.

  1. Titles of books, movies, magazines, newspapers, articles, songs, plays and works of art

This one’s a little tricky when ‘and,’ articles or prepositions are involved. If ‘the’ is the first word in the given name of a work, it must be capitalized (The Washington PostThe Glass Menagerie). If ‘a’ or ‘an’ is the first word, it too is capitalized (A Few Good Men), and if a preposition leads the way, you guessed it: Capitalized (Of Mice and Men). However, if any of these words come in the middle of the title, it is not capitalized.

  1. The first letter in a sentence

The last two rules are easy. Always capitalize the first letter of a sentence. If the sentence is a quotation within a larger sentence, capitalize it, but only if it’s a complete sentence. If it’s merely a phrase that fits neatly into the larger sentence, it does not require capitalization. Study the following two examples for clarification:

  • The waiter said, “My manager will be here shortly,” but he never came.
  • The waiter told us that his manager would “be here shortly,” but he never came.
  1. The pronoun ‘I’

It’s only necessary to capitalize other pronouns when they begin a sentence, but ‘I’ is always capitalized.

Remembering the Rules

How can you possibly remember all these rules? Well, first of all, you should ask yourself three questions:

  • Is this the first letter in a sentence? If the answer is yes, capitalize.
  • Is this the pronoun I? If yes, capitalize.
  • Am I using a name that someone gave to this thing or person? If yes, capitalize.

And if you want to remember all the specific categories, try memorizing one of the following sentences.

  • “For Bob Barker, the price is wrong sometimes,” Adam says.
  • Susan Sarandon bought my wife fancy toilet paper in Boston.

The first letter of each word stands for a category:

  • F– First letter in a sentence
  • B– Buildings (and other man-made structures)
  • B– Borders (of regions, states, countries, etc.)
  • T– Titles
  • P– People
  • I– I
  • S– Schools
  • W– Water
  • M– Mountains
  • S– Streets

Other Examples of Capitalization

First Word of a Sentence

The cat is sleeping in my bedroom.

Where did I put that book?

Hey! It’s great to see you! How have you been?

Names and Personal Pronouns

My favorite author is Jonathan Franzen.

Tom and Diane met at Jill’s house.

Have you met my dog, Barry?

The First Word of a Full Quote

Mario asked, “What is everyone doing this weekend?”

Stacy answered, “My sister and I are going to the theme park.”

Days, Months, and Holidays

I hate Mondays!

Harry’s birthday is in July.

Oh no! I forgot about Mother’s Day!

Words in Formal Titles

Lord of Rings is better than A Song of Ice and Fire.

The first movie of the series is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Cities, Countries, Nationalities, and Languages

English is made up of many languages, including Latin, German, and French.

My mother is Italian, and my father is German.

The capital of Ethiopia is Addis Ababa.

Time Periods and Events

Most of the World War I veterans have now passed away.

In the Middle Ages, poor hygiene was partly responsible for the spreading of the black death.

High school history students often enjoy studying the social changes that took place during the Roaring Twenties in the United States.

In this article, it is not just the ten main rules of capitalization that we have to be aware of. There are many other additional rules where you can use capitalization on a consistent basis. The examples shown above should help you, the reader, to understand when and where these words can be capitalized and to notice a pattern in terms of how these rules can be applied. 

Overall, capitalization is a very tricky topic to fully master but if you know the rules and you know when not to capitalize at all just for definite / indefinite articles along with prepositions, you will be well on your way to having a handle on this advanced grammar topic. It’s important to not be overwhelmed by all of the rules out there including the additional ones that were highlighted here. Starting off with the ten main rules of capitalization is a sufficient enough starting point to focus on. With Capitalization, you do not want to bite off more than you can chew and while the ‘additional rules’ of this grammar topic are important, it’s best to focus on the main rules such as geographic features, names of people / titles, the first letter in any sentence, etc. Good luck!

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

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Location: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site; Washington, District of Columbia, USA

The Producer vs. Consumer Mindset

We are all consumers but not all of us are producers. This dichotomy between producing vs. consuming has become especially relevant in the 21st century when levels of consumption are at historic levels. When you think about it, being able to consume in different parts of life has never been easier or faster. You can stream vast amounts of music, download movies within minutes, and have food delivered to you at the click of a button. These days, you don’t even have to leave your house or apartment to consume food, books, music, movies, etc. Everything has become more widely available to the average person and that also includes education.

The Internet and other forms of technology have made it easier than ever to consume but despite that fact, is that all we should be doing? Aren’t we met to do more than to order food online, surf Amazon.com for the latest book, or listen to multiple Pink Floyd albums for hours thanks to Spotify? I believe that recently we have strayed too much to being only consumers without realizing that what is most fulfilling is to produce something of value. There should be a balance between consuming and producing and it’s best to strive for a mix of producing and consuming in your life with the former being more of a priority. Consuming is easy but it’s been shown to not be fulfilling and the utility of consumption decreases consistently the more you do it.

While consuming is incredibly easy and requires little to no effort, producing is the exact opposite. Producing something of worth or of value takes some or a lot of effort and the results are not immediate. To be a producer, you need to be determined, patient, put your skills to the test, and be able to think outside the box. Even though producing may not be the most fun or most enjoyable thing to do, it’s really what we as human beings are meant to do and what also gives us the most satisfaction.

If you think about it, our ancient ancestors had to produce or create in order to stay alive and sustain themselves. Back in those times, you had to catch a fish, spear a buffalo, or even a build a hut or you would not last very long. Simply put, our intrinsic value as people is based off of what we can contribute to our friends, families, communities, and the greater society. Now, this does not imply that you have to be producing something of value for others all of the time in order to be considered valuable. You don’t have to produce something for the sake of it or just to impress someone. You should find something to produce for yourself because you’ll build up some self-confidence as well as create more skills and abilities for yourself. You should choose to produce over consume yet you must figure out on your own what you would like to contribute whether that’s writing a blog, creating a piece of music, making an invention, or starting a business.

Why do we choose to produce? It reflects our innate sense of purpose and wanting to leave an imprint on the world regardless of how small or big it may be. There’s a true sense of satisfaction that you get from creating something out of nothing. Our ideas and our thoughts when they are put into actions can create a massive ripple effect that can change our lives if we do big things. The richest companies in the world such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook started out as simple ideas in the minds of their founders but they became real through actions and deeds after starting out just as words.

A producer takes their thoughts and ideas and turns them into something real. For each person, what they would like to produce is going to be different but the simple act of deciding to produce something instead of consuming all of the time is a beautiful thing in its own right. You can start out small by producing a poem, a painting, a piece of music, and then once you successfully create those things, you can aim bigger and better for producing things like a screenplay, a novel, a film, a multi-million-dollar business, etc. If you do not know what to produce but would like to start somewhere, think of which skills and abilities you currently have and make a list of what interests and hobbies you have as well. It’s also best to realize that producing something of value takes serious hard work and effort. It is not an instantaneous event and takes months and sometimes years depending on how big the thing is you’re producing.

Once you get the first thing you produce out of the way, you’ll start to realize how useful, fun, and innovative it can be to be a producer instead of a consumer. As mentioned before, there’s an innate sense of satisfaction out of crafting something from nothing as well as the fact that you used either your mind or your body or both to make it happen. Happiness, I would argue, does not come from consuming the things of this world but rather producing things to bring into the world that weren’t in existence before.

Depending on what you produce, you’ll also be helping people with what you make whether it’s a house that a family will live, a business that will hire employees, or a bridge that will connect town and city together. Also, the thing that you produce will last beyond your life here on Earth and can even transcend time if it is that impactful. Beyond the creation and production, what you’ll be creating is a legacy that you’ll be remembered for. Could you say the same for someone who doesn’t produce anything at all and just consumes? That person won’t be remembered for anything because they will not have left a legacy of producing for themselves, their family, and humanity while they were around. Consumers may benefit in the short run but not in the long run.

Our lives can both be about consuming and producing but think about what would be a better use of your time. Is it binging Netflix for multiple hours or creating a garden to grow fresh vegetables? Is it about playing video games or coming up with ideas for a new novel? Is it better to eat ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s or to make it from scratch? Depending on what answers you gave for these questions, you will be better off as a consumer or a producer.

Everybody has different priorities with what they value in their free time. If you find that you’re producing enough in your day to day work, keep doing that. However, if you find that you’re consuming all the time and not really producing beyond what you’re paid to do, you may want to reconsider how you spend your time. Giving yourself a chance to do more, write more, build more, play more, etc. is likely to be much more satisfying for you and give you a sense of fulfillment and even happiness that can’t be found in Netflix, Spotify, or UberEats. By being a producer, you’re creating value for the world and you’re building your skills, abilities, and knowledge at a time when you can do more than ever if you’re willing to educate yourself and put those traits and turn them into conceivable actions.

I’ll leave you with the idea of compiling a list of your day-to-day activities, map out the amount of time you spend on consuming or producing. If you’re consuming for hours on end and you feel listless, demoralized, or sad, you can turn it around by starting to take those free hours of your time and turning it into something productive. Producing is simply harder and more intensive than being a simple consumer. However, the return of investment on your time put into producing something far outweighs any benefit(s) you would receive from consuming a video game, an order of take-out, or a pop album.

Start from scratch and do your best to take the skills and abilities you have and turn out something totally original that only you and you alone came up with. The books you’ve read, the movies you’ve watched, the music you’ve listened to, the classes you’ve enrolled in, the people you’ve met; that kind of consumption isn’t inherently bad but you should take the time you spent consuming other people’s products and using that knowledge to create your own product. Your own novel, your own play, your own symphony, your own business, or your own recipe: these are all ways that you can find fulfillment and meaning as a producer in this life. You won’t have forever to do both producing and consuming so why not choose producing because you may find that you’re not only good at it but you like it just that much more than being a consumer.