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. 

Advertisements

A Lifetime of Learning

Contrary to popular belief, one’s education does not stop when you finish high school, college, or even graduate school. While formal education is often necessary and useful especially for skilled and professional fields, it is not the end all be all for actual learning. Even if you have been through 12 – 18 years of formal schooling, that doesn’t mean that you should stop learning. If anything, you may have the time, the money, and the ability now to study and learn about subjects that you never had the chance to before. Learning doesn’t stop in your teens or in your 20’s. It’s a lifelong process and you should never want to stop learning.

In a previous article titled, “A Wealth of Knowledge”, I highlighted a number of ways and places where you can continue to learn new things to broaden your horizons and expand your interests. As I mentioned previously, we are currently living in a time where knowledge is seemingly infinite, more affordable, and easier to access than ever. While information, data, and subject matter is limitless in the ways that it can be obtained and analyzed, the ways in which you can stand out as a learner is in how much time you devote to the learning process and how dedicated you are to absorbing this knowledge.

Whether it’s coding, learning a language, or developing financial literacy, the amount of effort you put into it will decide how much you get out of it. Even if you’re just learning a new skill or subject as an interest or hobby, it will help you to stand out from the crowd. If you use part of your free time to develop yourself by learning a new skill or trade, it is guaranteed to help you both personally and professionally. There are also different types of learning so if you happen to decide to revisit subjects you forgot about from high school like algebra, physics or chemistry, you may be doing your brain a favor. If you’re not so much into math and science but enjoy the written word much more, perhaps you would be better suited for strengthening your reading, writing, and editing skills. You may want to start your own blog like I did, or become a freelance editor to make extra money, but you are using your personal interests to further your learning to make yourself well rounded.

Reading a new book each month, learning a language for one hour each day, or doing a daily crossword puzzle takes both discipline and effort. A lifetime of learning is not for everyone because it takes some characteristics that some people aren’t capable of implementing. You have to set goals when you’re learning outside of a university or a class setting. Only you will be accountable for your actions and how far you go when it comes to your outside the box learning experiences. It can be difficult to learn new things when you don’t have a teacher or professor looking over your shoulder but you’ll develop more self-confidence, maturity, and intellectual depth by being able to learn and study on your own.

When it comes to learning by yourself, in addition to no one holding your hand through the process, don’t expect others to recognize the work or effort you put in to it. You should be learning for yourself and not for the approval of other people. If you’re expecting recognition just for reading a lot or creating your first website, the world doesn’t work like that. Being confident in your abilities, proud of your efforts, and seeing the fruits of your labor change the world in some way is the icing on the proverbial cake when it comes to taking the initiative to learn.

To make the excuse that you don’t have time or you’re too old or it’s going to be too hard are not good enough. There’s a popular expression that you never know until you try. How can you know that you’re going to fail if you haven’t even tried yet? Don’t limit yourself based on your educational background as well because you may find that you were bad at mathematics but ended up becoming a great coder when you gave it a shot. If you find that you don’t like what you’re learning or that you’ve made little progress over the period of at least a few months of serious effort and hard work, then it may be a good idea to do something else.

You should always be learning something, especially when it’s something new. Letting your creative and intellectual juices stagnate is not good for either the mind or the body in my opinion. Even if learning new things may become more difficult as you get older, it’s still not impossible and it would be good for your mental dexterity. Do not let pressure from your friends and your family prevent you from learning. If they love and care about you, they’ll support your thirst for knowledge. Reading a book, learning a foreign language, or playing an instrument are activities that we should always be encouraging in people regardless of their age and background.

Learning new skills has many mental benefits especially for the brain. ‘Myelin’, the white matter that makes up a good portion of our cerebral nervous system becomes denser when we learn new skills allowing us to improve our performance when it comes to processing new information. In addition to your brain chemistry seeing a boost, the more you learn, the more neural pathways are formed in the brain allowing the electrical impulses to fire off quicker than ever making it continually easier to learn new things. It’s a positive feedback loop for your brain when you learn on a consistent and unyielding basis.

Existing knowledge that you’ve compiled is also more easily retained because you’ll be making connections between the new information you’re learning and the old information that you remember clearly. Having more knowledge and more learning experiences is proven to make you a more interesting person as well. Being able to discuss a wide variety of books or have a detailed conversation with another person in a foreign language are great ways to form deeper connections with people and to boost your self-esteem.

If you’re bored and don’t have much of a challenge in your life, then try something new! Putting yourself to the test with learning a new skill is perhaps the most rewarding thing you can do in your life. In this hyper-technological age, adapting to change is a key trait that you’ll need to take on in order to succeed both personally and professionally. Adapting to the times often means learning new skills so if you embrace this process, you won’t be as afraid of change and you will be better able to meet those challenges.

As mentioned before, your brain is full of muscles that need to be exercised like any other part of the body. You don’t want one of your most important organs to atrophy and stagnate. A good way to prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s is to keep learning throughout your life to make those degenerative, painful diseases less of a possibility. Learning is contagious so if you have a friend or a family member who seems bored by life or wanting to pursue something new, give them a few suggestions and see what they do with them. Practicing a new language or joining a book club are examples of ideal social activities that are focused around these new learning experiences. A lifetime of learning can truly do a world of good.

SourcePreventing Alzheimer’s Disease

Book Recommendations – Volume VI

As we go into the month of December, the winds start to blow, the snow starts to fall, and the cold begins to set in, it’s no better a time during the year to crack open a book to catch up on some reading. The three books I’ve read at this time and am highlighting in this ‘Book Recommendations’ post focus on current events. I tend to stay away from politics but these books do a good job of reflecting upon the political moment we are living in here in the United States.

All three of these books come from authors who have a wealth of life experiences and are considered to be experts in what they do. If you’re not into non-fiction books, you may want to skip these ones but if you want to understand more about the United States in 2017, you should give each of these books a honest read.

edwardluce

1. The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward G. Luce is an excellent take on the current state of liberal democracy in Western countries. Due to growing income inequality, the failure of institutions to handle complex issues involving immigration, health care, infrastructure, etc. causes more and more citizens to doubt the benefits of the current democratic system. Luce pulls no punches and does a good job summarizing the pressing problems that ail the United States and Western Europe.

While not the cause of these problems that have been building up for decades, Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of far-right parties throughout Europe are symptoms of a virus that is weakening the fundamentals of liberalism. For every action, there is a reaction and the negligence shown by political and economic elites in the Western world has caused there to be a backlash against our system of governance. Luce believes that there has been a lot of doing away with the principles that made democracy work for the past couple of centuries. In the 21st century, the current political system has not adapted to technological, economic, and social changes that have occurred at a quickening pace. Unless more attention is paid to those men and women not succeeding in today’s globalized economy, there will continue to be political dysfunction within the democratic system.

Unless the Western countries can guarantee that political liberties and freedoms can go hand in hand with an economic system that works for the many and not the few, the status quo will not last. Mr. Luce is not hesitant in using the rise of authoritarianism in countries such as Russia, Turkey, and the Philippines to draw a distinct parallel as to an alternative form of government that is becoming more prominent. The Western system used to be an example of good governance to the rest of the world but is that still the case today?

tribe

2. Tribe by Sebastian Junger deals more with modern psychology than modern politics but you can gain a lot of insight into what drives us as human beings from reading this book. Mr. Junger is a war correspondent that has covered the front lines for over a decade in America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. From his experiences, he was able to form the hypothesis that there are certain living conditions that bring out the best of us. When a person is surrounded by the members of the same ‘tribe’, usually about 20-30 people, who he or she has something in common with and for whom survival is not guaranteed but fought for every day, that goes back to our early days on the planet as hunter-gatherers.

Mr. Junger makes excellent points throughout the book that we started out thousands of years ago as a communal society moving from place to place and relying on each other to survive against the elements and against other creatures. He argues consistently that we may do best when we work with each other instead of against each other for a common goal or purpose. The alienation, individualism, and me-first culture in modern Western societies is out of line with our evolutionary history and may be the cause of the mental illnesses and anxieties that have been shown to be on the rise. Combat veterans who come home from war often miss the bonds of brotherhood that were formed from fighting for the guy or girl on the left or the right of you. They often miss the bonds created during battle that are impossible to recreate after re-entry into modern society.

The author uses an example from early American history when some English settlers would leave the colonial towns to join the Indian society, which was exactly like the tribal lifestyle, and the reverse would never be the same. There were no Indians who would leave their tribe to join the English settlers in their more modern colony set-up. In tribal communities where everybody has a say and where everybody has a role to play, it’s easy to make the argument that there would be less stress, less anxiety, and more purpose for those apart of it. Mr. Junger also brings up the example of Great Britain’s citizens during World War II and how only adversity would bring that modern society together.

A lot of Britons felt more patriotic and more cooperative each other during the war than compared to before and after the war. Adversity, struggle, and the fight for survival can be more meaningful to people than the safe and sanitized existences that make up the modern West. The time spent living through natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes can stir up people’s memories more than the average vacation or wedding. Tribe is an excellent, must-read book that pulls different elements of history, anthropology, and sociology to make a compelling argument that the average person should think deeply about.

fantasyland

3. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire – A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen is not your average American history book. Mr. Andersen spends about 500 pages summing up 500 years of American history through the lens of what’s fantasy and what’s real. Fantastical thinking, Andersen argues, has been apart of American culture since the first pilgrims arrived on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. In order to understand what’s going on in the America of 2017, he does a good job of bringing out examples from past centuries to explain how we got to this unique point in our history.

The ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’, and other fantastical phrases that have become part of the national dialect are not outlandish in the sense that they have always been apart of the national character. Citing examples such as the extremes of Puritan beliefs, the Salem witch trials, P.T. Barnum and show business, the anything-goes ‘cultural revolution’ of the 1960’s, the spread of Hollywood and celebrity culture, etc., each century in America has brought about new fantasies to become part of the national fabric.

The individualistic nature of American culture has led to dreamers, believers, and magical thinkers being indulged rather than the other way around as done in other countries. The idea that you can be whom you want and believe what you want in America has become a national rallying cry, especially in recent decades. Our belief in the stuff of fantasy (ghosts, extraterrestrials, is the Earth flat?) has made America an international outlier among the industrialized nations.

Mr. Andersen argues that with the rise of Donald Trump and the excessive polarization along cultural and political fault lines that we may have hit a point of no return. The lines of fantasy and reality are becoming increasingly blurred whereas in our past, fantasy and reality were competing ideas in American society but never overtook each other to reign supreme. An amazing and timely non-fiction book that is an easy page-turner, Fantasyland is a must-read in 2017 and will help you understand how we Americans ended up here over the span of centuries.

English Corner – Prepositions of Place

In this ‘English Corner’ blog post, we are going to go deeper into the topic of prepositions, which we have covered previously but I want to highlight the specific ‘prepositions of place’ that are a large part of this expansive grammatical topic. The thing to keep in mind when reading this article is to focus mainly on the examples listed below to see how, when, and why these preposition words such as ‘at, on, and in’ are used. There are different reasons that are given when it comes to each of the ‘preposition of place’ words and how they end up being used in a sentence. Later on, I will highlight the ‘prepositions of time’ and how they are utilized when compared to the ‘prepositions of place.’

When it comes to ‘prepositions of place’, the main point of this type of prepositions is to show where something or someone is located, usually in a physical sense. The three major words that are ‘prepositions of place’ are ‘at, in, and on’, which also come up the most frequently in terms of usage. ‘At’ is used in a very specific manner in terms of being referred to for a specific location, place, or position.

Here are some examples where we can use ‘at’ as a ‘preposition of place’ in the right way:

  1. I was at Jonathan’s birthday party last night.
  2. We lived together at 8 Drury Lane for two years.
  3. They danced with each other for the first time at the Senior Prom.

When you use the prepositional word ‘on’, the meaning and usage for it is a little bit different than ‘at.’ For ‘on’, you’re going to use it to indicate the position of an object, thing, or person on a horizontal or vertical surface such as a desk, table, floor, etc.

Here are some examples of how we can the preposition ‘on’ in a sentence:

  1. The boy is playing on the playground.
  2. The basketball was bouncing on the court surface.
  3. I put my cowboy hat on the kitchen table.

Similarly to ‘at’, ‘on’ can also be used for positioning when it comes to streets, roads, and avenues.

Example: I used to live on Beacon Street.

The last major ‘preposition of place’ would have to be ‘in’ which is quite frequent in its’ usage. In terms of its’ meaning, the preposition ‘in’ is used for something or someone that is enclosed or surrounded.

Here are some examples of how we can use the preposition ‘in’ in a sentence:

  1. The check is in the mail.
  2. The letters are in the mailbox.
  3. She is in the high-speed train going home from work.

In addition to discussing enclosed or closed off places and spaces, the preposition ‘in’ can also refer to a position within a general area such as a town, city, country, region, country, continent, etc.

Example: I used to live in Istanbul, Turkey but now I live in London, England.

It’s important that the average English learner be made aware that there are many more prepositions of place besides the main ones, which are ‘at, in, on.’ There are many other prepositions of place words, and it would be an exhaustive list to go over the meaning and usage of each one. However, it would be better to highlight another couple of preposition of place words that come up frequently but not as often as ‘in, on, at.’ The other ‘preposition of place’ words would be after, among, behind, between, in front of, next to, beside, by, over, above, under, below, and beneath. Here are some examples of sentences that use these other preposition of place that were just mentioned above:

  1. The dog jumped over the wheelbarrow.
  2. He was hanging out by the pool on his off day from work.
  3. She checked under her bed to see if her pet gerbil was there.

There are dozens of examples that could be made with prepositions of place. However, it’s best to focus mainly on the particular prepositions of place such as ‘at, on, in’ and to understand clearly when, why, and how we use them correctly. While a sub-topic within ‘prepositions’, knowing what prepositions of place are and how to use them correctly in the grammatical sense will help you to become a better English learner and student.

The Blog Turns Two

Today, September 16th marks the 2nd anniversary of www.benjweinberg.com, my personal blog and website which I have been proud to create and build up over the past two years. I have to say that it’s been the most successful year yet in terms of both overall viewership and unique visitors. I am proud to note that I have reached thousands of people from around the world each month, and have published over one hundred and fifty and photo-blog posts total over the past two years.

In the last year, I’ve documented my travels throughout Colombia and have really made the ‘English Corner’ series a cornerstone of this blog. In addition, I have reviewed many films and analyzed them such as ‘Collateral’, ‘Traffic’, and ‘Lord of War.’ I continue to write about psychological themes that are highlighted in articles such as ‘How You Think Affects Everything You Get’ and ‘Reaching the Gold Standard.’

In this 2nd year of blogging, I have done my best to improve my writing and editing skills in order to create useful content for my site visitors. In the third year of my website, I hope to write longer-form posts at 2,000 or 3,000 words total in order to dive deeper into topics of my choosing. I continue to devote a lot of time and effort into this blog and I am very thankful to all of the readers, friends, and family who have supported it by reading my articles, leaving comments, and giving me constructive feedback.

I’ve recently moved to Boston, Massachusetts so I do hope to focus on some cultural aspects of living in this historical New England city and to highlight some of the destinations that are popular here. I will continue to write about ESL topics in my ‘English Corner’ posts but also focus more on personal and professional development ideas that I think will help my readers to succeed and advance themselves in different parts of life.

As this blog enters year three, I will continue to produce consistent content on a weekly basis, and to also update the layout and design of the website to be more viewer friendly. If you’re new to this blog and don’t know much about me or my writings, I have an archives section which has the location of all one-hundred and fifty of my posts which have occurred in the past two years. I also have a ‘Best Of’ Articles page where I highlight the ten-blog posts that I like the most when it comes to culture, lifestyle, traveling, music/movies/books, and personal development. You can find the individual links to these ten top posts here: https://benjweinberg.com/best-of-articles/.

Lastly, the biggest changes that I’ve made to my website are to incorporate the ability of ESL students to sign-up and take private English lessons with me if they are interested in doing so. If you go to the ‘Learn English With Me’ page, you can find out more about which kinds of private lessons I’m offering as well as my pricing per lesson. There’s a sign-up interest form at the bottom of this webpage, and you can also check out my ESL teaching background and experience here: https://benjweinberg.com/learn-english-with-me/.

I also have advertised my freelancing services in writing and editing. I have done freelance writing and editing jobs for clients over the past couple of years and am looking to expand my clientele. If you would like to find out more information about my pricing, experience, and see my portfolio, you can check it out at this webpage: https://benjweinberg.com/freelance-services/. There is a sign-up interest form at the bottom of that webpage too so you can get in touch with me through an e-mail message.

In this third year, I hope that my website will continue to grow in terms of audience and produce better and more useful content. I want to say thank you to all the readers and supporters of benjweinberg.com. I look forward to keeping in touch with you throughout the rest of the year and into 2018. As always, you are free to comment on any and all of my articles, give me helpful feedback through a direct message, or to show interest in my freelance and teaching services by completing a sign-up form. Thank you again for your readership and I think that this 3rd year of benjweinberg.com will be the best one yet. Cheers!

Book Recommendations – Volume V

Similarly to the months to come during the heart of wintertime, the current summer season is a great chance to catch up on reading new books or books you have yet to finish. Whether you’re at the beach, hanging out in the backyard, or are going on a long road trip, reading a good book is a good way to pass the time.

My last ‘Book Recommendations’ post came in February so it’s time for another volume of recommendations for you to consider when it comes to your next book purchases. While you may not be interested in the same book genres or same authors as myself, I still encourage you to read a book before the end of the summer. Whether it’s through Amazon, your local mom and pop bookstore, or at a book fair, you owe it to yourself to put down the iPhone and pick up a good book instead.

1.) Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden (2001) is a non-fiction, and detailed take on the combined efforts by the Colombian and United States governments to bring down the infamous Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin cartel. Mr. Bowden, known foremost for his take on the Battle of Mogadishu between U.S. special forces and Somali militants in the critically acclaimed novel, Black Hawk Down (1999) is a great journalist with over thirty years of covering recent events involving war, peace, and international affairs.

Mr. Bowden is a reporter and a journalist who does his research when it comes to Killing Pablo, and this book is a real page-turner. The author covers both the early years of Pablo’s empire to his international rise as the #1 drug kingpin in the world to his eventual downfall at the home of Search Bloc and Los Pepes. With many interviews from U.S. and Colombian government officials, as well as a lot of research into the terrible events that transpired in the 1980s and 1990s, Mark Bowden gives a comprehensive account of the manhunt for Pablo Escobar, and how his eventual death came to be.

There is often a lot of speculation and rumors surrounding the Medellin cartel that are unfounded which is why reading ‘Killing Pablo’ is a refreshing take on what really happened and who was involved in the drug kingpin’s demise. This is a great book if you’re interested in learning the true story behind the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar.

51VGfzTSErL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_
Killing Pablo: The Hunt for The World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden

2. Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans by Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret.) is an excellent and comprehensive look at each of the world’s major bodies of water, and how they each affect world geopolitics in different ways.

With over thirty years of experience in the United States Navy having commandeered every kind of amphibious vessel that you can think of, Admiral Stavridis has the life experience and intellectual background necessary to make this book quite a compelling read. As the only admiral in the history of NATO to serve as its’ Supreme Allied Commander, Mr. Stavridis is well poised to look at the state of the world through its’ largest and most valuable commodity, the oceans and the seas that make up over 70% of this planet.

If you’re new to geopolitics or don’t know much about the significance of the world’s oceans, Admiral Stavridis breaks down the history, the culture, and the geopolitical importance of each body of water throughout the book. From the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, the author discusses who are the countries involved in the area, what should the role of the United States be, and how can we ensure that this body of water stays conflict free, and friendly to international commerce into the far future.

Since the release of this book in June of 2017, it has risen to the top of many best sellers’ lists and for good reason. In a geopolitical area that doesn’t get much focus, Admiral Stavridis reminds us of the sheer importance of the world’s oceans and seas. In a 21st century world filled with uncertainty and ambiguity, The admiral’s book is a clear-cut, well-reasoned take on the geopolitics of the oceans, and how their collective future is tied to each and every one of us.

41ewMAemkRL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_
Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans by Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret.)

3. The Quiet American by Graham Greene is an exceptional book that is well written, has deep and complex characters, and involves a time period in world history that is often overlooked. The novel takes place during the early 1950s as the French Army is entangled in skirmishes and indirect conflict with the Vietminh. Meanwhile, the new presence of American aid workers including a young economic attaché, Alden Pyle, whose motives for being in French colonial-era Vietnam are considered to be suspect to the narrator, a British journalist named Thomas Fowler. Not only do the two men come into conflict regarding the future of Western influence in Vietnam but they also are at odds in a romantic triangle with a Vietnamese woman known as Phuong.

The two main characters, Fowler and Pyle, could not be more different in their outlook. Fowler is cynical about the West’s involvement in Vietnam, and is jaded by politics and war. Pyle is a young, idealistic, and naïve American who is reserved in his personal manners, but is unafraid to interfere in Vietnamese affairs by acting as a ‘third force’ to help bring change to the country by economic and military means.

Phuong is the young Vietnamese woman who is caught between Fowler and Pyle, as she is desired by both men but for different reasons. While Fowler regards her simply as his lover, Pyle wants to protect her. It is implied in the book that Pyle’s desire for Phuong is reflected in his desire to have a non-communist South Vietnam through any means necessary. Fowler does not go along with Pyle’s thinking and regards his belief in ‘American exceptionalism’ to be shortsighted.

An interesting novel and an engaging read, The Quiet American has become a mainstay in popular fictional literature and has been adapted into two major motion pictures, one in 1958, and more recently in 2002, which starred Michael Caine (Fowler) and Brendan Fraser (Pyle). This fictional novel is based off of real events in the 1950s when French colonial rule in Vietnam was coming to an end.

QuietAmerican
The Quiet American by Graham Greene

While reading books during the summer season may seem like a chore to some people, for others, it’s a great time to kick back, relax, and dive into different genres, and characters that offer a refreshing reprieve from the humdrum of our busy lives.

 

English Corner – Past Perfect Tense

Now that we’ve gone over the present perfect tense with the last post, let’s go back into the past. I’m going to cover the how, when, and why’s of when we use the past perfect tense and how to do so with the correct form and usage. While not the most well know or often used grammatical tense, by improving your knowledge and understanding of the ‘past perfect tense’, you’ll be able to take your English proficiency to new heights. Remember this blog post in the future because it may help you for years to come.

The past perfect tense goes deeper than other past tenses in that you’re going to be referring to two separate yet interrelated events that occurred at some point in the past but at different times and places. The past perfect tense, like other past tenses, refers to an action, event, or thing that took place at a time earlier than now or in the present. The past perfect tense goes further in that it connects two events in the past and ties them together because they are somehow interrelated to some degree. This grammar tense refers to one past event happening before the other event and it’s usually clear which event happened first and which event happened second.

When it comes to the past perfect tense, the first event will be mentioned at the beginning of the sentence and then the second event will be mentioned towards the end of the same sentence and is noted as having happened after the first event.

Examples

  1. Alex had gone out to eat dinner when his phone rang suddenly.
  2. When they had arrived to the birthday party, the cake was already being eaten.
  3. She was already exhausted at 10 o’clock that night because she had studied for the Chemistry exam all day.
  4. You had finished the 5K race when I was just getting started.

Forming the past perfect tense for usage in sentences is quite simple. There is always going to be two parts to forming this particular grammar tense that you should be aware of. Firstly, you’re going to use the verb ‘to have’ in the past tense form, which would change into the word had. Right after the word ‘had’, you’re going to add the past participle of the main verb to be used in the heart of the sentence.

As listed in the examples above, the ‘had + past participle’ combination should come one right after the other to form the past perfect grammar tense. You can use verbs like started, studied, finished, danced, etc. to go along with the past tense form of ‘to have.’ There are only some slight changes to be made to the past perfect tense when it comes to the negative or question form of this grammatical tense. I’ll also use another example of the ‘positive’ form of the past perfect tense to compare the three versions together.

Example – Positive

  1. I had realized my mistake in the equation but it was too late to change.

Example – Negative

  1. John hadn’t thought that it was a big deal to skip the gym this week.

Example – Question

  1. Had they worked hard enough to earn the Nobel Peace Prize? (+)
  2. Hadn’t you sung before with the city choir before tonight’s performance? (-)

It’s quite common when it comes to the negative form of the ‘past perfect tense’ to contract ‘had not’ into ‘hadn’t’ to express it. It’s not obligatory to contract the negative form of the verb ‘to have’ but it’s quite common to use especially if the sentence is informal in nature. In the negative question form of the ‘past perfect tense’, you can also be free to contract the ‘to have’ verb if you feel that it is necessary although it is not mandatory to do.

The word ‘had’, positive or negative form, will always go at the beginning of the sentence if it is in the form of a question for the past perfect tense. While that’s a lot to keep in mind, if you follow the examples listed above for positive, negative, and question form, you’ll be able to catch on quickly in terms of the structure and usage of the past perfect tense.

The last thing to keep in mind is that similar to the ‘present perfect tense’, the past perfect tense also makes usage of the word ‘just’ to describe events that ‘just’ happened in the past recently and could be used to relate to another event in the same sentence.

Examples

  1. I just had put on some coffee when my friend arrived to the house.
  2. The airplane had just departed when I came to the airport gate.

The past perfect tense can be used under a specific circumstance and it can be quite valuable to master when describing multiple events that occurred recently. When it comes to a historical timeline to study or errands that your close friend ran during the day that he wants to tell you about, a working knowledge of the past perfect tense in English could help you in a number of ways. By understanding the structure, the forms, and the usage of this grammatical tense, you should be able to pick it up yourself to be used in polite conversation or for your next story.