English Corner – The Active Voice

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

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

Active Voice Usage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Active Voice Adds Impact to Your Writing

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

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

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

The boy must have eaten all of the hot dogs.

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

Jennifer mailed him the love letter.

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

Colorful iguanas live in the Amazon rainforest.

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

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

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

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

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English Corner – The Rules of Capitalization

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

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

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

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

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

The Ten Main Rules

  1. Names or titles of people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Names of buildings, monuments, bridges and tunnels

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

  1. Street names

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

  1. Schools, colleges and universities

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

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

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

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

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

  1. The first letter in a sentence

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

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

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

Remembering the Rules

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

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

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

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

The first letter of each word stands for a category:

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

Other Examples of Capitalization

First Word of a Sentence

The cat is sleeping in my bedroom.

Where did I put that book?

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

Names and Personal Pronouns

My favorite author is Jonathan Franzen.

Tom and Diane met at Jill’s house.

Have you met my dog, Barry?

The First Word of a Full Quote

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

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

Days, Months, and Holidays

I hate Mondays!

Harry’s birthday is in July.

Oh no! I forgot about Mother’s Day!

Words in Formal Titles

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

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

Cities, Countries, Nationalities, and Languages

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

My mother is Italian, and my father is German.

The capital of Ethiopia is Addis Ababa.

Time Periods and Events

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

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

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

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

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

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.

‘Babel’ – Film Review and Analysis

There’s a famous story from the Book of Genesis in the Bible that is known as the ‘Tower of Babel.’ It’s a mythic story about how human beings were once speaking the same language around the world and were able to communicate seamlessly enough where they were able to build a magnificent tower to reach the heavens. Humanity is united and in peace with each other given that they share the same language, culture, and geographical location.

After the ‘great flood’ washed away and receded, humanity wanted to build the tower of Babel in order to reach God and the heavens. In the story, God is befuddled by this show of hubris and ego that has united humanity together in building this tower to reach his presence, and decides to make humanity speak different languages, and separates people into different tribes located in different places around the world. The confusion of languages has a major impact on humanity causing a breakdown in communication, and leading to the future certainties of conflict, violence, and overall suffering.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has created a beautiful film named after this allegorical Biblical event titled, Babel (2006), which was released over a decade ago, and was a winner of Best Original Score at the Oscars as well as six other Academy Award nominations. The film was released to critical acclaim and has garnered a lot of recognition for its’ themes of globalization, cultural and language miscommunication, and the powerlessness of people to control critical events that happen in their lives.

‘Babel’ features an ensemble cast of actors from around the world, which include Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yashuko, and Adriana Barraza. ‘Babel’ is an intriguing film in that the characters and situations in the film take place in three different parts of the world but are interrelated with each other. The sequences of events that occur are out of order but are shown to connect with each other as the film goes on. As for the countries where the film is set, they include Morocco, Japan, Mexico, and the United States. A lot of credit must be given to Mr. Inarritu for weaving these three storylines together without making it too hard to follow or too farcical to be believed. The aspects that make this film unique are the interweaving storylines, the excellent acting, and the themes and questions that ‘Babel’ poses to its’ audience.

The stories that make up ‘Babel’ show how unrelated and seemingly random events at the time can end up turning people’s lives upside down. The overall plot of ‘Babel’ starts out with a Japanese businessman giving a rifle to his hunting companion / tour guide in Morocco as an innocuous gift. This event seems harmless as a moment between two men of different countries and cultures sharing a gift but which causes different events of the movie to unfold over three different continents.

The hunting rifle that makes its’ way to Morocco, is eventually sold by Hassan Ibrahim, who receives the rifle from his old Japanese hunting partner and the rifle ends up in the hands of a goat-herder named Abdullah. Perhaps not using the best judgment as a grandfather should but not seeing a problem with it, Abdullah gives over the hunting rifle to his two sons, Yussef and Ahmed, who want to use it to ward off jackals from killing the goats in their flock.

The boys who are only teenagers and are not skilled with weapons end up practicing the range of the rifle and end up practicing the firing of the rifle on rocks, a moving car, and then the bus. The two boys do not really know the danger that they’re playing with and they don’t know who is on the bus they’re firing the rifle at. The Western tourists who are travelling through Morocco are also unaware as to what is about to happen and are trying to enjoy their trip to a foreign country. Susan, played by Cate Blanchett, is an American woman sleeping on that bus filled with Western tourists and is trying to get some rest when she is shot in the neck accidentally by one of the Moroccan boys with the hunting rifle.

Her husband, Richard, played by Brad Pitt, is caught unaware of what happens to his wife, Susan, but quickly catches up to the reality that his wife is severely wounded in a foreign country where he doesn’t speak the language, and he doesn’t have control of the situation. After losing their third child recently to the SIDS disease, Richard and Susan’s marriage is on the rocks and they took the trip to Morocco to get the spark back in their love life. In some scenes of the film, they seem angry, confused, and emotionally distraught after the tragic death of their infant child.

While Richard and Susan are on vacation in Morocco as a means to save their marriage, their two children are in the care of their long-term nanny who is originally from Mexico. Amelia (played by Adriana Barraza) is put into a difficult situation after Susan’s injured state becomes known. She is an undocumented person working in the United States illegally but she has been a nanny and housekeeper for Richard and Susan for many years. She treats their children like her own son and daughter after being a personal caretaker for them. It is made clear to the audience that Adriana has been in the U.S. for over a decade and a half and she has close ties to the American family.

During the film, Adriana is put into a very difficult situation, as she has to go back to Mexico for her son’s wedding but is unable to leave Richard and Susan’s children by themselves at the house in California. Because Richard can’t leave Susan’s bedside, they are delayed in their arrival back to San Diego. Against Richard’s wishes, Adriana decides to take their children with her to Mexico for the evening to enjoy the wedding of her son. Everything is fine for Adriana and the children at the wedding until her nephew, Santiago, decides to drink heavily during the celebration. He is shown to be intoxicated before driving on the way back to U.S.-Mexico border with Adriana and the children causing a number of unfortunate events that upends the lives of all those who are involved in his serious mistake.

The last part of the storyline takes place in Japan and focuses mainly on a teenage girl named Chieko Wataya (played by Rinko Kikuchi). Chieko is deaf and is unable to hear the outside world. On top of that, her mother recently committed suicide, which Chieko became the first witness to leaving her traumatized and inconsolable. She struggles in her attempts to relate to people anymore and is frustrated with boys her age. It is implied that her father and Chieko don’t have the best relationship with each other and haven’t discussed the traumatic event of her mother’s suicide.

During this storyline, it becomes clear that Chieko is confused, lonely, and looking to receive love from a father-like figure since her own father has been so absent in her life. Without spoiling the ending of this storyline, it is also revealed that Chieko’s father is the one to originally give the hunting rifle to the Moroccan man, Hassan Ibrahim, who he met on his trip there. The police eventually question Chieko’s father about why he sold his rifle to Hassan, and how Susan’s wounded state has become a major political point of contention between the U.S. and Moroccan governments.

Overall, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu does an excellent job of bringing these four storylines over three continents to life, and is able to tie them together seamlessly. ‘Babel’ is a story of human beings living their lives in their own ways within their own cultures but who get caught up in external events beyond their control. Inarritu is able to capture how interconnected our world is today in the early stages of the 21st century whether we would like to be aware of it or not. Seemingly unrelated events to each other are able to cause powerful effects that can change people’s lives when they least expect them.

A Japanese man goes on a hunting trip in Morocco, enjoys his Moroccan hunter’s company, and gives him a gift. That Moroccan man sells the rifle to a local goat-herder who lets his two sons practice with the weapon, and they fire the gun consecutively without knowing the damage it can do. The boys, not trying to do harm intentionally, end up shooting accurately at a bus that happens to be filled with Western tourists. An American woman who is catching some sleep catches a stray bullet and starts to bleed to death. She has to seek help from the local Moroccans in the village, and her wounded status causes a political feud between the U.S. – Moroccan governments over whether or not the act was ‘terrorism.’

While she’s recovering from her wounds, her housekeeper half a world away takes her children to Mexico to see her son get married at a wedding. Her nephew uses poor judgment on the drive back to the U.S. from Mexico and makes a fateful decision that changes Adriana and the children’s lives. ‘Babel’ was one of the first movies of the 21st century to really capture the phenomenon of globalization, and how actions that happen half a world away can affect other people’s lives directly. In this movie, we see how people try to do their best as people do, and often times don’t mean to do harm to others intentionally.

Sometimes, people can get caught up in making decisions that they think are good at the time but end up having the opposite effect. ‘Babel’ is not a simple black and white film with truly good or truly evil people. This is a film that understands that there are various shades of grey to life, and that it is difficult to control everything that happens to us and the people in our lives.

Overall, ‘Babel’ is an emotionally charged film that reminds us how people, things, and events can be misinterpreted. When you as an individual come from different cultural and language backgrounds, there are things that are likely to be lost in translation with another person of a different background. Unfortunately, miscommunication is apart of life, and problems are going to occur when people are unable to understand and connect with each other even if they do speak the same language with each other.

As the Biblical story goes, humanity ended up being divided by different languages after trying to be unified in their desire to build up a singular tower to the heavens. We are said to have been punished for our hubris and ego, which caused us to be separated from each other as we were spread out intentionally across the globe.

The audience is left to wonder at the end of ‘Babel’ if there is a truly happy or sad ending to take note of. The plain truth of the ending to me is that ‘Babel’ purposely shows all the elements of the human experience from Chieko’s joy at going to a rave party with her friends to Adriana’s pure despair at losing Richard and Susan’s children in the Mexican desert.

‘Babel’ shows us that life has its’ inevitable ups and downs, and that we can only control so much about our own lives, and many things are often out of our control yet still happen to affect us deeply regardless. Still, this brilliant film captures the resilience of its’ characters who try to make amends for their mistakes, and want to become better as they figure out the complexities and difficulties that make up life. I highly recommend ‘Babel’ to others and hope that it will get the recognition it deserves for years to come.