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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The Why of Standards

How do we define standards? What exactly do they mean to our society and the world as a whole? See, the thing about standards is that if they are not observed by everyone to some degree than what would be the point of having them in the first place. Having standards when it comes to behavior, dress, professionalism, ethics, etc. helps society to function and for people to live productive and healthy lives. Without having standards or not being beholden to anyone else will create a society of winner-take-all or every man or every woman for themselves, which is not only counterproductive but also self-destructive in the long run.

As defined by Dictionary.com, A ‘standard’ is defined as “something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; or an approved model.” It’s a general definition but you can see that creating a standard requires the consent of the society at large. Standards can be difficult or easy to enforce depending on how popular they are but the total absence of standards in different areas of life should be fought against as much as possible. Everybody has different standards but the key to keep in mind is whether a lack of standards or a complete abandonment of standards is making the local community or overall society worse off as a result.

We don’t think about it but basic standards helps create laws, rules, and regulations that keep society running well. When there are no standards in anything whether its’ with business, politics, dress, the environment, etc. then every individual man, woman, and child will suffer in some regard as a result. Another thing to keep in mind is that a lack of standards or standards that are burdensome and counterproductive also cause harm to us as well.

Standards change over time but there are certain ideals and beliefs that I think should stand the test of time. By this I mean that basic manners and politeness should always be observed, presenting yourself well in your outer dress and appearance depending on the setting is crucial, and that you add with basic integrity, decency, and honesty when doing business or leading as a member of your community. Standards over time for these particular areas should not change and should even become stronger so that the next generations do not forget how to act, behave, and be good.

Standards can be relaxed in a number of areas or they can be hardened in other areas depending upon the mood and whims of the larger society but those areas I listed above should be consistent and not be trifled with. When basic manners, integrity, and matters of presenting become optional rather than mandatory, it’s likely that the entire society will feel the ill effects of such an absence of standards rather quickly. Fundamentally, systemic societal issues such as corruption, violence, and poverty, which while they have a wide range of causes are still related to an absence of moral and behavioral standards.

In a free society, standards can most definitely change and be adapted to fit to the times but it has to be with the approval of the majority of those people in that society. Leaving standards to the whims of a few leaders can be cumbersome and even negligent especially if they themselves due not match the standards for which they should follow based on their leadership roles. Standards are best when they are created, managed, and enforced in a democratic fashion and where the majority of people in that society are able to follow those standards.

While we are all individuals, we are all still apart of a collective society and we have to sometimes sacrifice our personal standards when we come up against those standards of the larger society even when we may fundamentally disagree with them. No standard is perfect but if the society has collectively agreed upon those standards, then all of the people must abide by them to the best of their ability. If the standards are to be changed, that should be done over time with the consent of the majority. Even if we don’t like the standards, if no one agrees to them, then they are not standards anymore and society could suffer as a result.

If you don’t like the absence of certain standards or believe that they are too burdensome on you or people that you know, then you need to make the effort and put in the work to change these standards. If you don’t like with how someone is behaving, then you need to make an informed argument as to how that person should behave in a more polite and decent manner. If you see some form of corruption and certain political leaders are letting it slide, then you need to take some responsibility in holding yourself first to a higher standard and then calling out that corruption to get others behind you so that the corruption may end in the future.

Individuals have power in a society with standards but they will fundamentally have less power in a society where there are weak standards or none at all. That is also the case where one sole individual can set standards for everyone else without so much as a protest from others, which is also dangerous and detrimental to society as a whole.

While standards such as for behavior, dress, professionalism, ethics, etc. may not always be popular to uphold, these standards form the backbone of the collective society. With the absence of any sort of standards comes at the behest of laws, rules, regulations, and principles as well. Standards form the base for a civilized society and in their absence; there is no way that a society of individuals can function at all.

When you read this article, think about your own standards and how they came to be in your thinking. Also, think about how important they are to you. Lastly, think about the current standards of your society and how long it took for them to be formed and implemented as well as how important they also are regardless if you agree with their being in existence or not. Standards are not meant to be popular all the time but they are meant to ensure codes of conduct in various manners of life.

The sheer absence of standards leads to an anarchy of sorts that would render polite society meaningless and turn individuals against each other in a collective free-for-all. Understanding the why of standards will make you more likely to improve and better your own existing ones.

English Corner – All About Adjectives

We have previously covered ‘adjectives’ to an extent in a previous blog post entry on the ‘eight basic parts of speech’ for which ‘adjectives is one of them. However, I believe that it is crucial to go into much more detail about what adjectives are and how they can be used in different ways in the English language.

The main definition for a ‘adjective’ is a word that is used to describe a noun or give a noun or a pronoun a more specific meaning. There are hundreds of adjectives in the English language making the possible combinations and uses of them almost infinite. The process of an adjective describing a word is modifying it to become more descriptive. Adjectives answer important questions about the details of a sentence such as: What kind?, Which one?, How many?, How much?

Let’s start out with some general examples of how adjectives can be used within sentences to help give pronouns and nouns more specific and descriptive meanings.

Examples:

The newlyweds live in a beautiful house.

John is a kind and caring teenager.

Tina is a sweet and respectful girl.

The high school students are quiet when they listen to the teacher.

From the general examples of ‘adjectives’ that I have listed above, in the bolded words, you can see a pattern take place in that these words are describing nouns like ‘house, teenager, girl, teacher’, and they always come before the nouns. These nouns as they are well documented are people, place(s), and thing(s). As you can see, while the adjective(s) come before a noun, they also come after verbs such as ‘is, are, live,’ etc. as shown in the examples above. Verbs don’t always come before adjectives but that’s usually the case in a normal sentence.

Here are a few more examples showing how the average verb will come before an adjective in a sentence:

  • Your car is blue. (to be)
  • The sky appeared to be cloudy. (to appear)
  • His face looked tired. (to look)

Adjectives can also modify pronouns as well within a sentence and you can use two adjectives together in the same sentence back-to-back without any issues. Here are some examples I have listed below with adjectives – pronouns together in a sentence as well as the use of two or more adjectives in the same sentence:

  • They were such a nice couple.
  • It is really a beautiful day out.
  • He truly acts like a mature individual.

From these pronouns – adjectives examples above, you can see that they are often subject words such as (they, it, he) and they come at the beginning of the sentence. The adjectives themselves (nice, beautiful, mature) will come towards the end of the sentence after the pronoun but before the noun they modify if there is one to be changed.

  • The cookie is both black and white.
  • He was a dangerous, demented person.
  • LeBron James is a kind, caring athlete.

You don’t only need to use one or two adjectives in your sentences as you can use three or more if you really would like to make your writing as descriptive as possible. Knowing how and when to use adjectives is the key to becoming a better English writer and making your writing more appealing to your audience. By being able to know the vocabulary and how to use adjectives correctly in your sentences, your English will be more readable and also more entertaining to your readers. It will take time but it’s good to establish the basics of adjectives now in order to build upon your knowledge of this topic later on.

When it comes to how to form ‘adjectives’, they will usually come with endings to the words that stand out to you. Examples of adjective word endings include –able, -ible, -ish, -like, -ful, -less, -ous, and –y. Adjectives don’t always end in those word endings but it’s important to be aware of the many cases in which they do end like that.

Examples: Thinkable, Possible, Childish, Adultlike, Thoughtful, Faithless, Courageous, Hungry.

There are hundreds of examples for adjectives that end with these letters but it’s key for you, the reader, to draw the connections by looking at the structure of the adjective and seeing if there’s a –y or –ish ending before you write it for your sentence.

Lastly, a lot of adjectives are comparative or superlative in nature so you have to be aware of how to form those words as well because they will come up a lot in written or spoken form.

Comparative: more or less + adjective and -er

Superlative: most or least + adjective, adjective and –est

Adjective: Tall

1st Comparative Example: Taller

1st Superlative Example: Tallest

Adjective: Dangerous

2nd Comparative Example: More Dangerous, Less Dangerous

2nd Superlative Example: Most Dangerous, Least Dangerous

Hopefully, this blog post on adjectives has helped you, the reader, in terms of what they are, how they are placed within a sentence, how many of them can be used, and how to use them for comparative purposes. You have also seen possible word endings for most adjectives to give you a good hint as to when they are actually adjectives and not just nouns or verbs. Once you have this fundamental basic part of speech down, you’ll be able to tackle harder and more complex (adjective) English grammar topics.

Book Recommendations – Volume VIII

As always, the summer season is an excellent time to be catching up on personal reading. One of my favorite activities during the summer is to lie out in the park or at the beach and dive into some books that have piqued my interest. Whether you are a fiction fan or a non-fiction fan, there are a lot of excellent books out there to keep you occupied. My three choices for reading this summer deal with non-fiction topics yet I hope they peak your interest as well even if you are a fiction fan.

1.) “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari

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The follow-up to Harari’s first book, ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ dives into the promise, the challenges, and the problems facing humanity as we go through the 21st century and beyond. ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’ looks at how human beings got to this point in our collective history and how we will need to come up with new solutions whether political, economic, or social to adapt to this current age of rapid technological and climatic change. Clearly, this book deals with more speculation on the part of Harari as he lays out a number of possibilities that could come about in this century and beyond, rather than solely focusing on past human history as ‘Sapiens’ did.

Harari devotes a large part of the book to the fact at how much progress has been made across humankind in terms of eradicating disease, famine, and also how war has been limited in a time of relative peace and prosperity. The question that Harari poses is what will humanity focus its efforts on now that we have been able to get past in large part major sources of human suffering in the form of disease, famine, and war. Mr. Harari makes the argument that humanity will focus a lot of its collective effort on artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, machine learning, etc.

The goal particularly of the rich and wealthy will be to conquer death and achieve immortality through various means that the author goes more into detail about. However, how will social harmony be insured as artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning wipe out a large percentage of human jobs over the next few decades? Will the rights of the individual be maintained when a large part of the population no longer are able to find work or where they can receive adequate educational training for the jobs of tomorrow?

Harari is a sociologist so the details of the actual engineering and technology that would need to occur to make this shift happen is lacking in the book. However, he poses urgent questions for policymakers, economists, and other leaders as to what will happen when ‘big data’ algorithms know us and our desires better than they ever have. How will the meaning of ‘work, leisure, and relationships’ change as artificial intelligence continues to advance? Increasingly, Mr. Harari concludes that humans and machines will complement each other in various ways whether its in education, technology, the workplace, etc. and there can be nothing done to avoid this shift from happening in our lifetimes. What remains to be seen is how human societies react to a future where people must adapt to these technological changes to survive, prosper and how man and machine will act as they merge together beyond what was considered possible just a century ago.

2.) “Us v. Them: The Failure of Globalism” by Ian Bremmer

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Ian Bremmer, a notable political scientist has written a new book on the populist resurgence in the United States and around the world. He tackles the failure of ‘globalism’ as an ideology and how unfortunately it doesn’t look like we will all be able to live and thrive in a truly borderless world without political, economic, and social differences getting in the way. The fear of the ‘other’ and the tendency for human beings to organize themselves in separate tribes whether it’s the form of nations, races, and religions takes precedence even today as the reaction to globalism.

Mr. Bremmer makes the argument that ‘globalism’ and ‘globalization’ are separate in their meanings as ‘globalism’ as a term is primarily political in nature while ‘globalization’ is primarily economic. Globalization will continue to expand and thrive because its’ practical for nations to engage in trade and finance at the international level to boost and grow their national economies. As long as it is economically advantageous for nations to trade and do business with each other, globalization will continue to be a mainstay in economic relations.

‘Globalism’ however has received a backlash from the rise of political populism primarily in the Western world (the U.S., the U.K.) but also in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Poland), and also in developing nations like India, Mexico, Turkey, etc. Issues of mass migration, cultural shifts in nations, growing income inequality have led populations to look towards protectionism and ‘strongmen-lite’ politicians to address these systemic issues. In my opinion, Bremmer correctly argues that while the world is collectively doing well in terms of economic growth and the subsequent rise in living standards, there is still a serious political recession going on with far left and far right politicians gaining stream in terms of popularity.

‘Us v. Them’ reflect the growing unease and anxiety that a lot of people have regarding ‘globalism.’ Besides the cosmopolitan populations that live in the major cities of the world and who have benefited from the cross-cultural exchange of peoples, trade, finance, etc., there are many others who feel threatened by the ‘other’ and how their country and culture may be changing as a result. Mr. Bremmer sees the happening of Brexit, the election of Trump, and the rise of strongmen around the world as a reaction to ‘globalism’, and how there are drawbacks in that many people feel left behind by their political and economic elites who enacted these policies without their support. ‘Us v. Them’ is something that has occurred throughout human history and to myself, it goes back to our fundamental nature of our willingness to divide ourselves into separate tribes and to look upon the ‘other’ with suspicion and fear.

According to Mr. Bremmer, political populism is not likely to go away anytime soon and the rise of automation, an increase in artificial intelligence, the weakening of the middle class in both the developed and developing world are likely to put continued pressure on weakening political institutions who may or may not be agile and forward-thinking enough to come up with satisfactory solutions to these 21st century issues.

3.) “Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World” by Suzy Hansen

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‘Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World’ by Suzy Hansen is a refreshing take on the way American foreign policy decisions have affected the U.S.’s relationships with certain countries such as Iran, Greece, Afghanistan, Turkey, Egypt, and specifically the people who feel that they have been negatively affected by those decisions. The average American is likely to be unaware of how large of a role the country has played beyond its borders and how some of those decisions have left deep, festering wounds in the people of those countries who were directly affected and still haven’t forgotten.

Ms. Hansen who came from a personal background similar to mine has lived in Turkey for over ten years and has traveled to the Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and Egypt looking for the perspectives of those citizens in regards to how America changed their countries, mainly for the worse. Her personal background growing up was very insular and she went to travel and live overseas in order to see her country differently.

From reading this book, it was refreshing to see Ms. Hansen do her research about the countries she was living in and visiting as well as interviewing many people in those countries to hear their stories and their perspectives. I believe that her book does a great job of enlightening Americans about negative foreign policy decisions made in the past that our country may not like to remember but is still forefront in many other countries’ perspective of the United States.

As Hansen left home and lived overseas, her innocence and that of America is stripped away because it’s a harsh truth to face yet it is one that we must all face is that America has not always done good in the world and there have been negative effects of past U.S. foreign policy decisions that heavily resonate with those peoples to this day. The key aspect of this mix of journalism and personal memoir makes this book stand out as a referendum on America’s role in the world, and how its likely to decline in the future. While our impact may lessen on our nations in the future, Hansen sees that as a possible good occurrence do the damage that has already been done.

My main critiques of this book is that while Ms. Hansen diagnoses that issues with U.S. foreign policy, I do wish there was an addition to the book where the author discusses how America can better its foreign relations in the future and to move forward positively with the countries she has become familiar with. However, to be fair, that would take a whole another book to diagnose how U.S. foreign policy should move forward. Also, I believe that this book was a bit too negative in its perspective on America and it could have been more balanced in its overall viewpoint. Ms. Hansen’s book pulls no punches and is a clear-eyed look on the blindspots of American exceptionalism and how our values have not always been well received beyond our borders.

Radiohead @ TD Garden

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

English Corner – Direct and Indirect Speech

One of the biggest challenges that the average English learner can face is not being able to interpret or understand the difference between direct and indirect speech. In order to really understand how they are formed and used, we first need to define these two terms and what they are supposed to represent.

Let us start first with what ‘direct speech’ is. Direct speech simply repeats or quotes the exact words that were spoken word for word without any hesitation. If you need to use direct speech in writing, in English, we use quotation marks (““) to highlight the words that the person spoke so as to not to give false representation. Direct speech in writing always goes within the two quotation marks so that there is no confusion as to who said what words. For direct speech, you can highlight what was said in the present but also what was said in the past. I have listed a few examples below that could be used both in the spoken and written contexts.

Examples

  1. Jimmy says that, “We will need to come home early tonight for dinner.”
  2. Katherine shouted, “There’s a bee in my hat! Help!”
  3. My mom asked me earlier, “What time will you be home? I said to her, “I don’t know yet, mom.”

It is important to keep in mind that direct speech can refer to both the past and the present which is a key difference from indirect speech as I will go on to discuss further.

Indirect speech, also known as reported speech, often discusses what was said or what was written about in the past and may not always be 100% in its accuracy so that is important to keep in mind. The words are often used in the past tense and there are different verbs used for indirect speech such as ‘say, tell, ask, hear, see.’ The word ‘that’ also comes in handy in sentences that use indirect speech and commas are not used as frequently as they are when it comes to direct speech.

Examples

  1. Janet said, “I spoke to him earlier. “ (Direct)                                                                      Janet said that she had spoken to him earlier. (Indirect)
  1. The principal stated to the class, “He will not accept bullying in this school.” (Direct)                                                                                                                                      The principal stated to the class that he will not accept bullying in this school. (Indirect)
  1. They told him that he would never receive a work promotion. (Indirect)
  2. We told the children yesterday that it was time for them to go to bed. (Indirect)

As you can see from a few of these examples, the word ‘that’ is a key part of differentiating indirect speech from direct speech. It is also common to see indirect speech or reported speech not using commas as well. If you weren’t actually there with the person who said those words or had heard it from someone else afterwards, you need to use indirect speech because it wouldn’t be right to quote someone when you weren’t actually there to hear them.

You don’t always have to use ‘that’ to make it indirect speech. However, you never really want to use commas in sentences with reported speech. Lastly, as mentioned before, indirect speech always refers to the past tense whereas direct speech can reflect the present as well since you can quote people’s words in real time as you’re there listening to them speak. That distinction is key to understanding one of the differences between direct and indirect speech because there are a few of them to be aware of.

There are certain verbs for the act of speaking in English that are going to come up in direct and especially indirect speech. You’ll want to use the verb ‘to say’ in a sentence where there is no indirect object. You can use the verb ‘to tell’ when you know who it is the person is talking to in the sentence and can verify who they are. When it comes to communicating with other people, the verbs ‘to speak’ and ‘to talk’ come in handy for both direct and indirect speech.

It’s important to note that the future tense cannot be used for direct speech since you would be basing those quotes or words on your own speculation rather than what you are hearing the person say or would have heard what the person said. Direct speech is for present and past tense while indirect speech is used for the past tense only.

While the tenses are either present or past tense when it comes to the direct speech or indirect speech verbs of ‘talk, speak, say, tell’, etc., it is important to keep in mind that the quoted parts of the sentence referencing the speaker can refer to the past, present, and the future. The direct and indirect speech verbs maintain their present or past tense format while the rest of the verbs can be past, present, or future tense depending upon the context. I have listed a few examples below to make this bit of information more easily digestible.

Examples

  1. Alice said, “She will go to the farmers market tomorrow to get some vegetables.” (Direct)
  2. I heard Alice say that she will go to the farmers market tomorrow to get some vegetables. (Indirect)
  3. Murphy says to the other teachers, “I don’t understand why my students didn’t pay attention in class yesterday. (Direct)
  4. The Math teacher told us how Mr. Murphy didn’t understand why his students weren’t paying attention in class yesterday. (Indirect)

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to indirect or reported speech are that modal verbs such as could, might, must, should, etc. do not change their actual form at all.

Examples

  • They explained to us that this tax bill could have negative consequences for the middle class.
  • We were told earlier that there might be consequences if we don’t finish all of the assigned homework by the end of the semester.

While there are many small differences between direct and indirect speech in English, the main thing to take away from this blog post is that how to phrase and quote speech is really important and must involve practice and effort. Being able to write stories or quote dialogue correctly are integral skills in the English language that can only come from being able to understand and use both direct and indirect speech. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know and best of luck in using this article to further your English language goals!

Sailing on the Harbor

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS 

LocationBoston Harbor; Boston, Massachusetts, United States