English Corner – Using Words of Encouragement

A letter, essay, e-mail or other written form of encouragement in English serves the following purposes:

-An expression of approval and support.

-An act of giving hope or support to someone.

We use encouraging words in the English language for helping someone out especially when they are not doing well. We want to encourage each and every person to keep on doing their best.

Some Examples:

-Do not give up faith.

-Do not be discouraged.

-Do not lose hope as there will many more opportunities again.

-It has been a great incentive to get a bonus for my extra sales and I hope that this continues.

-I am confident that our Sales / Marketing team will have no trouble accepting this challenge.

-I am confident that you will make an excellent host.

-Your hard work and determination are greatly valued.

Ten Main Expressions of Encouragement to Use in Your Speaking and Writing

-You’re coming along nicely.

-Keep up the good work.

-That’s good effort on your part.

-You are showing real improvement.

-You’re on the right track.

-Keep going and do not give up.

-Come on, you can do it

-Give it your best shot

-What have you got to lose?

-If at first you don’t succeed, then you must try, try again.

Some Phrases to inspire people.

(You wouldn’t use these phrases often in regular conversation, but when you are writing speeches or creating motivational essays, they sound very inspirational.)

  • Always follow your dreams.
  • You should reach for the stars.
  • Do the impossible.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • The sky is the limit.

How To Use These Encouraging Phrases In English:

Phrases to use when someone hasn’t started yet.

(You can say these phrases to someone who is trying to figure out whether or not to do something that seems difficult or risky.)

1. Give it a shot.

Example: Your friend has never asked a girl out for coffee before. You offer to introduce him to your friend since she is single.

2. Go for it.

Example: One of your colleagues at work is looking for a raise and is thinking of asking his boss for one. You encourage him to do so.

3. Why not do it?

Example: Your wife asks you if she should enroll in a cooking class on the weekends. You tell her why not do it and see what happens.

4. It’s worth a shot.

Example: Your brother wants to try out for the Varsity basketball team at his high school but is not sure if he should do it. You tell him that it is worth a shot.

5. What are you waiting for?

Example: You are waiting for your friend to go down the waterslide and have some fun. You ask him ‘what are you waiting for?’

6. What do you have to lose?

Example: Your brother asks you whether or not he should take his girlfriend on a nice vacation to Italy this Summer. You tell him, “What do you have to lose?”

7. You might as well.

Example: Your professor asks you to see her after class to do some extra work so you can understand the class material better. “You might as well” to get a better grade.

8. Just do it.

Example: The famous Nike slogan but whenever you are put to the challenge physically or mentally, you say to yourself or others, “Just do it.”

Phrases to use when someone is already doing well.

(You can “encourage” someone to continue doing what they are already doing.)

1. There you go!

Example: You hit a home run to tie the baseball game and your teammates cheer you on.

2. Keep up the good work.

Example: You get an ‘A’ on your history exam and your professor commends you for your good work.

3. Keep it up.

Example: You are running in a Track and Field race and you have one lap to go. Your coach urges you to finish strong.

4. Good job!

Example: You improve your Grade Point Average (GPA) by a few percentage points and your parents want to congratulate you.

5. I’m so proud of you!

Example: You tell your grandmother about you getting in to your dream college and she exclaims how proud of you she is.

Phrases to use when someone is having trouble.

(These phrases are ways to tell someone to keep doing something even when it is difficult.)

1. Hang in there.

Example: Even though you have to hike for another hour, you need to ‘hang in there.’

2. Don’t give up.

Example: Life can be difficult but you need to persevere through its challenges by not giving up.

3. Keep pushing.

Example: Even though the weights you are lifting are very heavy, keep pushing and get them done.

4. Keep fighting.

Example: You have three rounds left to fight against the heavyweight champion of the world.

5. Stay Strong.

Example: I know losing a pet is very sad and difficult but you have to stay strong for your siblings.

6. Never give up. Never give in.

Example: Even when you have schoolwork, a job, and a mortgage to pay, don’t give up or give in.

7. Never say ‘die’.

Example: Anything is possible in life so there is a chance that your dreams can come true.

8. Come on! You can do it!

Example: When you have 500 meters left to swim and you’re in first place. You have the ability to win the race.

Phrases to use when someone is facing a hard decision.

(These phrases are ways to tell someone to keep trying)

1. I will support you either way.

Example: If you choose not to go to college and join the Army instead, I will support you either way.

2. I’m behind you 100%.

Example: Your family should be behind you 100% as long as you are working hard to better yourself.

3. It’s your call.

Example: I’m not sure where to go out tonight, sweetheart, ‘it’s your call.’

As you can see, there are numerous examples in English of this kind of supportive language. Words and phrases of encouragement play a key role in showing the person(s) or people that you care about them and that you want them to succeed. If you have a friend, family member, or a work colleague who is a native English speaker and you want to encourage them to improve, get better, or to do their best, you’ll want to use some of these examples listed above.

There’s not much that can make a person’s day more than receiving some encouragement so they can face their challenges head on and succeed in their goals. This list of vocabulary words and phrases will help you do just that as an English learner in both your speaking and writing abilities. In the English language, there are dozens if not hundreds of these vocabulary words but if you are able to put them to good use, you’ll be seen as being more proficient in the language. You will also be better able to connect emotionally with people and gain a few new friends through your kind words and actions.

If you would like to improve your English skills especially with regards to your grammar and vocabulary, check out my English grammar course offerings on Teachable:

https://english-from-a-to-z.teachable.com/ 

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English Corner – Indicative, Imperative, Subjunctive, and Infinitive Moods

A verb mood in English shows the writer’s attitude toward what he/she is saying. There are four different and distinct verb moods that we use in the English language to highlight a kind of behavior or belief that needs to be expressed independently or dependently. The four verb moods that we will cover in this article are indicative, imperative, subjunctive, and infinitive.

We will cover how, when, and why these four moods are used along with giving some example sentences of how they can be expressed in the written form. The verb moods are similar to each other but they are also distinct in how they are utilized. If you are able to use all four of them correctly, your English proficiency and understanding will increase a good amount as a result.

Indicative Mood states an actuality or fact.

  • We will go to see a movie this Sunday.
  • I’ll follow you to the park.

Imperative Mood makes a request or a demand.

  • Let’s go to see a play this weekend!
  • Please stop touching me!

Subjunctive Mood expresses a doubtful condition (contrary to fact) and is often used with an “if” clause.

  • If I were you, I wouldn’t buy a house.
  • I wish I were more organized.

Infinitive Mood expresses an action or state without reference to any subject. It can be the source of sentence fragments when the writer mistakenly thinks the infinitive form is a fully-functioning verb.

When we speak of the English infinitive, we usually mean the basic form of the verb with “to” in front of it: to go, to sing, to walk, to speak.

Verbs said to be in the infinitive mood can include participle forms ending in -ed and -ing. Verbs in the infinitive mood are not being used as verbs, but as other parts of speech.

·       To err is human; to forgive, divine.

·       He is a man to be admired.

·       He came to see you.

The following verbs often attract the subjunctive mood:

Ask, recommend, suggest, wish, insist, order, commend, request, and demand.

A verb in the subjunctive mood may have a different form.

The subjunctive for the present tense third-person singular drops the -s or -es so that it looks and sounds like the present tense for everything else. In the subjunctive mood, the verb to be is be in the present tense and were in the past tense, regardless of what the subject is.

  • Incorrect: If I was you, I would take any offer.
  • Correct: If I were you, I would take any offer.

(The verb follows ‘if’ and expresses a non-factual condition.)

  • Incorrect: I wish I was able to speak English fluently.
  • Correct: I wish I were able to speak English fluently.                                                    (The second verb is in a clause following a verb expressing a wish. It suggests a non-factual or doubtful condition.)

·       Incorrect: Our suggestion is that everyone on the team does the survey.

·       Correct: Our suggestion is that everyone on the team do the survey.

·       Incorrect: She recommended that each student takes a note.

·       Correct: She recommended that each student take a note.

Once again, the Indicative, imperative, subjunctive and infinitive are the four moods of English verbs. All manners and moods are expressed through these four verbs. While verb tenses (present, past and future) are used to talk about time, the four mood verbs show states, attitudes and reality.

Indicative Mood

We use the indicative mood to express:

Assertion – Heathrow is the world’s busiest airport.

Denial – Oliver cannot speak English well.

Question – Do you work in Tokyo?

Imperative Mood

We use the imperative mood to express requests, commands and advice:

Request – Please don’t talk during the Spanish lesson.

Advice – Look out for that tree!

Command – Shut that door please.

Subjunctive Mood

We use the subjunctive mood to express unreal situations, possibility and wish.

Unreal – If I were rich, I would buy a sports car.

Possibility – We might find her engagement ring if we were to look hard enough.

Wish – I wish it would stop raining today.

Infinitive Mood

Verbs in the infinitive mood are used as parts of speech more than verbs. It expresses the state of being or the state of action.

I may go to the beach later.

They came to speak to me about the meeting.

It’s important to eat well and exercise a lot.

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If you’re looking to improve your English through private lessons with me on a one-to-one basis please check out my ‘Learn English with Ben‘ page here: https://benjweinberg.com/learn-english-with-ben/

You can also check out my ‘English Grammar’ courses on Teachable.com here: https://benjweinberg.com/my-grammar-courses/

English Corner – Five English Mistakes That Can Be Easily Fixed

New students of the English language are destined to make mistakes when practicing their skills and abilities in building up their proficiency. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes but I’d like to share the five most common mistakes that are easily fixable given my experience in teaching English as a Second Language. Instead of letting these mistakes continue unabated, it’s important for teachers such as myself to correct our students right away so as to not let these small mistakes become bad habits. When you have a small error, usually grammatical in nature, it’s necessary for the teacher to use his or her expertise to correct the student right away and show them the difference between the right approach and the wrong approach to the mistake.

You should always be correcting the student politely and then showing them where exactly did they go wrong, and how they can avoid the same mistake again. Hopefully, English as a foreign language student will be able to avoid some of these five mistakes but I would say that it is quite likely that they will commit one or two of these five errors. Luckily, these mistakes are easy to fix and once you do, the student can move on to more intermediate and advanced challenges.

            1.) Neglecting both indefinite and definite articles: Some non-native speakers of English have a bad habit of leaving out the ‘a’, ‘the’, or ‘an’ at the beginning of their sentences. They may state their sentence as being “Economy performed very well.” While it’s easy to understand the sentiment of the sentence and the meaning will come across to the native speaker, it won’t be grammatically correct. It’s always necessary to put a definite article like ‘the’ before the word ‘economy’ in order for it to sound like a sentence that a native speaker would put together. “The economy performed very well,” should be the sentence that the foreign learner of English must use to be grammatically correct and fully understood.

This is an easy mistake to correct but if left unchecked, the non-native speaker will forget many times to add ‘a’, ‘an’, or ‘the’ at the beginning of their spoken or written sentences. For ESL teachers, this is a key mistake that students will make especially from language backgrounds where ‘definite and indefinite articles’ are not used. Another example of an indefinite article not being used is a sentence like “I have cat.” While we know that person has a cat, there is the key ‘a’ word missing to make it grammatically correct. The student should then be correct for the sentence to be “I have a cat.” While these are not major mistakes, by showing your students the correct structure, you will be doing them a big favor and helping them to become better English learners.

            2.) Mixing up singular and plural noun usage: Another slight mistake that ESL students make as beginners is to mix up singular and plural nouns. Knowing when and when not to use the ‘s’ at the end of nouns is key to having a grammatically correct sentence. It should be made clear that the letter ‘s’ should only be added to the end of a noun when there are more than one item, place, or thing being referenced. The key difference from one example would be ‘You eat one cookie’ and then ‘You eat two cookies’, with ‘s’ only being added to the noun ‘cookie’ when there is more than one being referenced.

You can also use ‘many, a few, a lot of’ before the noun ‘cookies.’ Countable and uncountable nouns go hand in hand with singular and plural nouns as grammatical concepts. ‘Countable’ nouns are usually plural meaning referencing more than one in number while ‘Uncountable’ nouns are usually singular in nature and can’t reference multiple persons, places, and things. Being able to use singular and plural nouns in written and/or spoken sentences is key because it will come up very often. If you make a small mistake with this concept of mixing up their usage, it should be corrected as soon as possible in order to not become another bad habit.

            3.) Forgetting to use prepositions and conjunctions: Before you can speak and write with some authority, you will need to study, use, and memorize the correct prepositions and conjunctions. Oftentimes, ESL students can forget the need for prepositions, conjunctions in a regular sentence but that will mean your sentence won’t be grammatically correct. A sentence like this one as an example would not work without prepositions or conjunctions. “He left me didn’t return I was not afraid I knew he would be back.” There are four prepositions and conjunctions missing from that example sentence and it can still work as a sentence, but it is fundamentally incomplete and would raise some eyebrows from native English speakers.

These are small errors but would hurt your ability to be understood or seen as an intermediate or advanced English learner. In order to change this example for the better, we need to make the sentence have both prepositions and conjunctions. “He left me and didn’t return but I was not afraid because I knew he would be back.” These two grammatical functions add a lot of substance to your sentence and makes it flow that much better. If you leave these conjunctions and prepositions out of your sentences, it will hurt your proficiency and you won’t be able to correct these particular mistakes.

            4.) Changing the order of the sentence from (Subject – Verb – Object): Spoken and written sentences in English have a strict order in terms of formation like any other language. While other languages could be ‘subject – object – verb’ or ‘verb – subject – object’ in official syntax, English, as a language, follows the strict format of ‘subject – verb – object’ at all times especially if you’re looking to form a complete sentence. You can form sentences in English in another order and you may be understood by a native speaker, but it won’t be grammatically correct, and you will be creating yet another bad habit that can be easily corrected. Every language has a basic structure and it needs to be observed at all times. You can’t cut around the edges in terms of the sentence structure or it will stand out as a huge error.

Basic sentence order should be memorized when you are first studying a foreign language and that includes English. A wrong sentence in terms of basic order would look like this as an example: “Store goes to the he.” You have the ‘object’ at the beginning which is wrong, the verb in the middle which is correct, yet the subject is at the end of this example sentence when it should be at the beginning. The sentence order is completely wrong here, but it is easily fixable in the following manner: “He goes to the store.” SVO or ‘Subject – Verb – Order’ is a clear and concise grammar rule that is fundamental in order to master the basic sentence structure instrumental in creating good sentences. A basic mistake like changing the order of a sentence form unnecessarily can be fixed quite easily. subject (he), verb (goes to), and object (the store). You just have to switch the order around a bit if it is incorrect and then you’ll be ready to move on to the next sentence while keeping the right order.

            5.) Capitalizing the wrong words in a sentence: Let’s remember that correct capitalization can be quite easy to do but it remains as a difficulty for many English as a second language students to master due to how, when, and where to capitalize words. It’s not a huge mistake so students may commit the error thinking that it’s not a big deal, yet correct capitalization can set you apart in terms of your writing proficiency from other learners. To neglect the basic rules of capitalization sets you up for bigger and more costly grammar mistakes. If you are able to take care of the basics and capitalize words throughout the sentence, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming a great English learner. An example of poor capitalization in a sentence would be as follows: “i Went to the grand canyon and it was Fun.” There are a few errors here that should stand out to you and are easily fixable, but a few students may choose to not revise the errors and leave the sentence wrongly capitalized. The key fixes are easy to implement for this sentence and would like the following revised sentence: “I went to the Grand Canyon, and it was fun.”

The changes I made include ‘I’ as capitalized, ‘went’ as not being capitalized, ‘Grand Canyon’ as being capitalized, and ‘fun’ as not being capitalized. In keeping with the basic rules of capitalization, proper nouns (Grand Canyon) should be capitalized, as well as the first word in any sentence, ‘I’ in this case, and to recall that ‘went’ as a verb should not be capitalized along with an adjective such as ‘fun’ when it comes at the end of the sentence. Conjunctions, or a preposition such as ‘and’ should also never be capitalized in a regular sentence.

Taking the time to take care of capitalization errors will put you ahead and establish your English language proficiency as improving by fixing your mistakes. If you have the time to write, speak, and use the English language, you should also use that time to revise, fix, and correct your errors to become a better student and a better learner.

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If you are interested in taking a private English lesson, check out my teachers page here where you can learn with me in a one-on-one hour session: Learn English with Ben

Lastly, please check out my Udemy courses on ‘Beginner Grammar’, ‘Intermediate Grammar’, and ‘Advanced Grammar’ here: My Udemy Courses

English Corner – Introduction to Action Verbs

When you are first getting the basic structure of English sentences, it’s important to base those same sentences around key verbs in the language that we use every day. Knowing what action verbs are as well as when and where to use them is key to becoming better at the beginning stages of your English language studies. In this blog post, we will cover what an action verb is, what it does, and we will cover numerous examples in the past and present tenses in order for students to understand how to use these ‘action verb’s and apply them to regular sentences.

I recommend taking these examples and studying them on your own by copying them or saying them out loud depending on if you are working on your speaking or writing. You can also have a friend, or a family member help you understand what these ‘action verbs’ mean by listening to the context of the sentences and how these different ‘action verbs’ are used. Please remember to memorize this type of English vocabulary because ‘action verbs’ are perhaps the most commonly used in English and will come up quite frequently in both the written and spoken form. Do your best to read through this article and then on your own time or in the comments section, please feel free to give a few examples of sentences that use ‘action verbs’ to complete them.

An action verb is a verb that expresses physical or mental action.

The action verb tells us what the subject of our clause or sentence is doing-physically or mentally.

Examples of Action Verbs:

To find an action verb:

1) Find the word in the sentence that is something someone or something can do.

2) Remember that the action can be physical or mental.

Examples of action verbs: think, smell, love, do, act, run, swim

Examples of action verbs in a sentence:

Maria walked to school.

‘Walked’ tells us what Maria was doing physically. (Past Tense)

Louie thought about the math problem.

‘Thought’ tells us what Louie was doing mentally. (Past Tense)

Below are some more examples of sentences that contain action verbs:

The action verbs are italicized.

1) Sam and Dave ride the bus to school each morning.

2) Jordan wants a horse for her birthday.

3) Isaac reads a chapter in his book each night.

4) Do you think it will rain today?

5) I believe that fairies, monsters, and unicorns are real.

6) Will you help me with my Math homework?

7) Please call your mom, Teresa.

8) The chicken strutted across the road without any fear.

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1) Are you doing your homework today?

2) McGregor and Mayweather will be fighting in the boxing match tomorrow.

3) She is singing a cover of a famous song by Ella Fitzgerald.

4) I’m smelling the flowers and their scent is divine.

5) She is acting in the top musical on Broadway these days.

6) Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

7) We are dancing to the beat of the Salsa music.

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Lastly, as you can see from the numerous examples I have provided, there are dozens of ‘action verbs’ in English but the ones I would like you to focus on primarily are the few that come up most frequently. From my experience as both an English as a Second Language teacher and a student of other languages, ‘action verbs’ like ‘run, go, swim, jump, walk, play, dance, sing’ are all vocabulary words that you should memorize first. Once you have those ‘action verbs’ under your belt, you will be able to move on to more complicated and longer ‘action verbs’ such as ‘think, strut, believe, smell, etc.’ In order to gain an advantage in getting better with English vocabulary, make sure to focus your efforts on ‘action verbs’ first before moving on to other vocabulary topics. 

‘Governing The World: The History of an Idea’ – Book Review

Governing the World: The History of an Idea by Mark Mazower is an illuminating and insightful history regarding the shaky yet continuous rise of internationalism that began with the Concert of Vienna in 1815. Mazower’s look at the emergence of global governance continues up until the wake of the Eurozone crisis with regards to the present needs of reforming the European Union in the wake of unpopular austerity measures and burdensome bureaucratic regulations from Brussels.

His book addresses ‘globalization’ different from previous books I’ve read in the past with regards to focus on ‘ideas’ themselves and the rise and fall of those ideas throughout the 19th and 20th centuries led by primarily politicians and philosophers such as Kant, Metternich, Mazzini, Marx, Lenin, Bentham, Wilson, the Roosevelts, etc. among many others who were driven in defining what the international system should look, act, and be like.

A consistent theme of this history of ideas and institutions from 1815 to about 2012 was how instrumental the ‘Great Powers’ in each era were in setting up the foundation of the international system whether it was the ‘Concert of Europe’, the ‘League of Nations’, or the ‘United Nations.’ In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars and World Wars I, II, the leading powers desired to create a ‘balance of power’ among the great nations yet whose actions could be backed up by a single hegemon such as the U.K., U.S. to set the rules and boost the institutions they founded. Mazower is clear in that the history of global governance evolved originally from the heart of Europe and then spread across the Atlantic as the title of global hegemon shifted from the U.K. to the U.S. with the emergence of Wilsonianism and the ‘fourteen points’ in the 1910s.

Whereas the origins of internationalism started out with a gentlemen’s agreement among the Great Powers of Europe to refrain from conquering each other in unending, bloody wars over territory based on religious and political aims, this shift has now ended up only two hundred years later encompassing the entire world over with 193-member states being represented from the People’s Republic of China to Tuvalu.

While the United Nations could be seen by some observers as a success story in terms of its inclusive nature and the ability for nations from around the world to have a voice regarding international issues, there are problems still today that plague the UN and its sister agencies and bodies. Whether it was how the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine could be implemented in different conflicts around the world with UN peacekeeping forces or the controversial over-usage of vetoes by the five permanent members of the Security Council to control the debate about their national self-interests, global governance increasingly mirrors national governance in being quite messy and imperfect.

Real questions remained in 2012 when this book was published and more so today regarding the vitality of the United Nations especially given the fact that the United States is responsible for 22 percent of the overall budget of the UN. In the 2nd half of the book, Mazower focuses on the differing approaches of various U.S. administrations towards the UN and how fundamentally the U.S. government, mostly during Republican administrations, were acting out of self-interest and would often go out of the way to create competing international bodies to marginalize the UN such as the IMF, the World Bank, and most recently the WTO. Often times, the U.S. has bypassed, ignored, threatened, and left UN bodies and have held themselves to a standard above those given to other member states which has caused a backlash among not only allies but also developing countries (see: International Court of Justice and U.S. nationals being exempted from its jurisdiction).

Similarly to how the League of Nations through the guise of British and French leadership failed to hold imperial ambitions in check between the World Wars, U.S. disengagement and disenchantment with the U.N. increasingly from the 1970s onwards and the rise of other ambitious states such as China, India, Brazil, etc. signals that there may be a shift towards a multipolar world where there is no true hegemon leading to more of a systemic anarchy within the international system in the near future.

By the end of Governing the World, Mazower sees serious needs for reform in not just the United Nations but also in the European Union, another leading international institution created during this period. Western-led international institutions are in real danger of losing relevancy, argues Mazower, due to a number of overlapping factors including rising political apathy, catering too heavily towards financial elites, and being unable to meet the lofty goals that they set for themselves. I didn’t even mention a resurgence in nationalism and populism around the world from Brazil to the Philippines, but you get the picture, right?

Much to the chagrin of internationalists, Mazower argues that the nation-state still remains the primary way for the average citizen around the world to receive or pay into ‘public goods’ so their attention will largely remain focused on what their President or Prime Minister is doing and not the UN Secretary-General or IMF Director. There are numerous challenges that face the international system currently and it remains to be seen whether the UN and numerous other bodies are ready to be able to tackle income inequality, climate change, financial crises, the threat of global pandemics in the rest of this tumultuous 21st century.

Overall, I thought it was refreshing to see his attention on the ‘Concert of Europe’ in Vienna and how he started this event as a jumping off point where leading powers would try to use regional and later international cooperation to prevent conflicts from emerging among nation-states. The lack of support given to bodies of ‘International Law’ remains as a consistent theme throughout this book and while ‘arbitration’ between nations was popular, it lost relevancy and hasn’t gained it back since.

Seeing ‘globalization’ through the ideas of influential thinkers from Immanuel Kant to Karl Marx to Henry Kissinger really paints a wholistic picture on how nation-states were driven by different belief and value systems. The clash between nations especially in the 20th century can be seen through the ideological lens (ex: Capitalism v. Communism). While I really enjoyed Mazower’s conclusion, I thought it could have been expanded upon a bit further especially with regards to the rise of private foundations, i.e. the Clintons, the Gates and other NGOs, and how that has affected larger institutional institutions which are now not as well funded. On that note, the chapters titled, “The Empire of Law” and “Science the Unifier” could have been shortened or condensed into one chapter. It took away from the timeline narrative of the book and didn’t relate well to the political history unfolding during the two centuries.

If you are looking for an interesting, comprehensive, yet digestible read regarding the tumultuous development of the international system over the past two centuries, then you will want to take a chance at reading Mr. Mazower’s Governing The World: The History of an Idea. The one question that we are left at the end of this over 400-page book is what will the international system look like for the rest of the 21st century? We shall have to wait to find out but there are numerous challenges and obstacles ahead.

English Corner – The Passive Voice

The passive voice occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence. This is because of whoever or whatever is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence. Take a look at this passive rephrasing of a familiar joke in the English language:

Why was the road crossed by the chicken?

Who is doing the action in this sentence? The chicken is the one doing the action in this sentence, but the chicken is not in the spot where you would expect the grammatical subject to be. Instead, the road is the grammatical subject.

The more familiar phrasing (why did the chicken cross the road?) puts the actor in the subject position, the position of doing something—the chicken (the actor/doer) crosses the road (the object). We use active verbs to represent that “doing,” whether it be crossing roads, proposing ideas, making arguments, or invading houses (more on that shortly).

Once you know what to look for, the passive voice is easy to spot. Look for a form of “to be” (is, are, am, was, were, has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a past participle. (The past participle is a form of the verb that typically, but not always, ends in “-ed.” Some exceptions to the “-ed” rule are words like “paid” (not “payed”) and “driven.” (not “drived”).

Here’s a sure-fire formula for identifying the passive voice:

Form of “to be” + past participle = passive voice

For example:

The metropolis has been destroyed by the dragon’s fire blasts.

When her house was invaded, Penelope had to think of ways to delay her auction.

Not every sentence that contains a form of “have” or “be” is passive!

Let’s briefly look at how to change passive voice sentences into active ones. You can usually just switch the word order, making the actor and subject one by putting the actor up front:

The metropolis has been destroyed by the dragon’s fire blasts.

The passive sentence, when converted into an active sentence:

The dragon destroyed the metropolis with his fire blasts.

When her house was invaded, Penelope had to think of ways to delay her auction.

This passive sentence, when it is converted into an active sentence:

After robbers invaded her house, Penelope had to think of ways to delay her auction.

To repeat, the key to identifying the passive voice is to look for both the form of “to be” and the past participle, which usually, but not always, ends in “-ed.”

Sometimes, the passive voice is the best choice. Here are a few instances when the passive voice is quite useful:

1. To emphasize an object. Take a look at this example:

60 Senate votes are required to pass the bill.

This passive sentence emphasizes the number of votes required. An active version of the sentence (“The bill requires 60 votes to pass”) would put the emphasis on the bill, which may be less dramatic.

2. To de-emphasize an unknown subject/actor. Consider this example:

Over 120 different contaminants have been dumped into the river.

If you don’t know who the actor is—in this case, if you don’t actually know who dumped all of those contaminants in the river—then you may need to write in the passive voice. Please remember though, if you do know the actor, and if the clarity and meaning of your writing would benefit from indicating him/her/it/them, then use the active voice.

Also, please consider the third example which is listed below:

3. If your readers don’t need to know who’s responsible for the action.

Here’s where your choice can be difficult; some sentences are less clear than others. Try to put yourself in the reader’s position to anticipate how he or she will react to the way you have phrased your thoughts. Here are two examples:

(passive) Baby Sophia was delivered at 3:30 a.m. yesterday.

(active) Dr. Susan Jones delivered baby Sophia at 3:30 a.m. yesterday.

The first sentence might be more appropriate in a birth announcement sent to the family and friends—they are not likely to know Dr. Jones and are much more interested in the “object” (the baby) than in the actor (the doctor). A hospital report of yesterday’s events might be more likely to focus on Dr. Jones’ role in delivering the baby.

Active and Passive Voice Examples – Different Grammar Tenses

Simple Present TenseTwice a month, Brian cleans his apartment. (Active)

Twice a month, the apartment is cleaned by Brian. (Passive)

Simple Past Tense – John fixed the doorknob. (Active)

The doorknob was fixed by John. (Passive)

Simple Future Tense / will – He will finish his job by 5 PM today. (Active)

The job will be finished by 5 PM today. (Passive)

Simple Future Tense / going toJackie is going to cook dinner tonight. (Active)

Dinner is going to be cooked by Jackie tonight. (Passive)

Present Progressive TenseAs of now, Corey is creating a Science project. (Active)

As of now, the science project is being created by Corey. (Passive)

Past Progressive TenseThe detective was working on the mystery murder case when his partner picked up another clue. (Active)

The mystery murder case was being worked on by the detective when his partner picked up another clue. (Passive)

Future Progressive Tense (will)

At 10:00 PM tonight, HBO will be airing the new Vice special. (Active)

At 10:00 PM tonight, the new Vice special will be airing on HBO. (Passive)

I hope that this ‘English Corner’ blog post has made clear when to use the passive voice and under which circumstances can its usage best be applied. As an English language learner, you’ll need to be comfortable with using both the passive voice and the active voice in order to become a better English writer and speaker. Please use the examples given to better your understanding of this English topic as well as how the active and passive voices are set up in the past, the present, and the future tenses. 

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.