English Corner – Colons

The colon is very useful in the English language, but it is also considered to be a bit underused as a means of punctuation within the world of grammar. You have to understand the circumstances for which a ‘colon’ can be used as well as a few examples of when it can show up in a regular sentence. If you can master colons, you can definitely count yourself as being advanced as an English learner. It will take time, but I hope that this tip will help you get a little bit better in making the colon work to your advantage as a writer.

What is a colon? Well, a colon indicates the meaning of what you want to say as well as to list what is necessary for the reader or the listener to understand. Colons and semicolons are very different in terms of meaning and use. They should never be used in the same sentence and are very rarely used together.

There are a number of uses for colons, but the three top ones would be the following:

Use #1: To introduce two or more items and to list them together separated by a comma(s).

Examples:

  1. You should do the following tonight: Practice your instrument, study for the test, and help clean the dishes.
  2. He got what he wanted today: A big promotion and an increase in his salary.
  3. Remember what we talked about: work hard, tell the truth, and always give it your best effort.

Use #2: To start a letter or an e-mail to somebody.

  1. Dear Mrs. Jones:
  2. To Whom It May Concern:
  3. To My Beloved ________:

Use #3: To introduce a quote or a short summary of a few sentences:

  1. John F. Kennedy once spoke: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
  2. The author of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, wrote in the second chapter:

“Tom Sawyer went back to his bed and stared at the fence where Jim was painting for Tom’s father. Tom wondered whether his father and Jim were friends or even if they spoke to each other.” (Not a real quote from the book, just an example)

  1. The Presidential candidate was quoted as saying: “I agree that we must move forward on fighting climate change in order to create a better future for our people.”

As you can see now, there are three main uses for colons as well as some rules that have to be observed. Let us now look at some of the important rules for using colons and how to make sure that we abide by them.

Rules of Colon Usage

  1. Colons are used in the middle of most sentences and are usually followed by a list of items or words belonging to the same or similar categories.
  2. Colons can also be used between two sentences especially if the second sentence relates to the meaning of the first sentence.
  3. A colon should always be used to introduce a numbered or a bulleted list, such as for grocery items or different types of grammar concepts.
  4. As mentioned earlier, colons can be used to introduce a quote from a speaker who was reported to have said the following words and sentences. This kind of long quotation does not need quotation marks if you have already introduced who the speaker is and what they are talking about followed by the comma (:).
  5. Colons can also be used at the beginning of a letter or an e-mail in both formal and informal settings for co-workers, bosses, friends, and family members. From seeing the examples above, you can note that instead of a comma (,), a colon (:) is being used instead to introduce the salutation or the greeting for the reader of the letter or e-mail.

These are the main rules for how to use colons and it’s important to keep in mind that a colon can:

  1. Never start a formal sentence.
  2. Never end a formal sentence.
  3. It is rare to have more than one colon used in a single sentence.
  4. Colons can be used between two sentences provided there is no period (.) separating them.
  5. While not very prominently used like a comma or a period, this form of punctuation has its uses which you should know how to utilize.

Colons are a tricky subject but once you understand both the main uses and the main rules, you will be well on your way to creating better sentences and more detailed quotes from the use of this punctuation. Similar to semicolons, colons are an advanced topic that separate an advanced English grammar learner from an intermediate learner. Once you can list items, introduce quotes, and start an e-mail off right, you will know that you are using colons correctly and for the right reasons.

English Corner – Semicolons

Similar to commas, Semicolons are an important punctuation mark that plays a key role in many English sentences. When you think of a semicolon, think of it being a slight pause in a sentence between the two main clauses or parts that should be separated as you would do with a comma. You will want to use the semicolon in between two independent clauses within a basic sentence and this is especially true if there is no coordinating conjunction being used such as and, or, but, etc. A good example of when semicolons can be used is when you are writing a list of items or things that need to be separated from one another. This is probably the most important use of a semicolon, but it is far from being the only usage.

Semicolons are often used in the middle or towards the end of a sentence if apart of a multi-item list. You won’t see a semicolon being used at the beginning or the end of a sentence as you would with a period or a question mark. Semicolons, colons, and commas are all part of what is known as ‘internal punctuation’, which forms the backbone of a complete sentence. Semicolons can be used with other semicolons within the same sentence as it would be the case when commas are used with commas in a similar sentence.

Semicolons can be used interchangeably with commas as well within the same sentence depending on whether two different people, places, or things are being referenced separately. It is perhaps most common that the semicolon is used with another semicolon or more, but it can be used with other forms of internal punctuation. In addition, semicolons can be used with a colon (:) because the colon often precedes the semicolon(s) in a complete sentence in terms of usage.

Let us look at a few examples where semicolons are being used with a colon preceding it:

1.)   Jackie bought the following items from the supermarket today: Corn; String beans; Tomatoes; Bread.

2.)   James listed his worst fears for his teacher in the following order: Flying; Being in front of an audience; Heights; Spiders.

Let us look at how semicolons (;) can be used with commas (,) correctly within the same sentence:

1.)   George’s family included John, his older brother; Jenny, his younger sister; and Jerry, his younger brother.

2.)   There are McDonald’s restaurants all over the world including Istanbul, Turkey; Mexico City, Mexico; and Bogota, Colombia.

3.)   The astronauts had to decide about the countdown: Would they count from three, two, one; or one, two, three?

All these examples show how interchangeable punctuation marks are within a complete sentence especially when you are listing family members or restaurant chains in different cities. You can see how commas and semicolons can be used together, especially to highlight pauses within a sentence to show differences between places and/or people. Semicolons are not used as often as commas but they play an important role.

Let’s look at how semicolons are used to separate independent clauses especially when a coordinating conjunction is not being used in its place:

1.)   Tim goes to France; I go to Spain.

2.)   Jenny wanted to play tennis; I told her the courts were closed due to rain.

3.)   Jack has three dogs; Tommy has one.

4.)   I believe in UFOs; Jordan thinks I have gone crazy.

In these sentences, you are particularly going to use semicolons when the thoughts in each independent clause are opposed to each other or neutral to the other. When you want to contradict the previous clause, you can use a semicolon to highlight the difference between the two points of views instead of using a coordinating conjunction. To put it another way, coordinating conjunctions are used with independent clauses that are similar to each other whereas you use semicolons with independent clauses that are opposed or contradictory of one another. Sentences with semicolons tend to be shorter than those sentences that use commas or coordinating conjunctions, which do a better job of lengthening the sentence without making it a run-on sentence.

Lastly, a semicolon has an important usage in between sentences or within sentences when it comes to quotations. A comma can replace a period after a quotation and then is followed by a semicolon to link the two sentences together especially when the two people are in a conversation.

Let’s look at a few examples of how semicolons are used within a sentence where there are quotations cited as part of a larger story or narrative:

1.)   “I don’t want to do this,” he stated; “You have no choice in the matter.”

2.)   “Is this your home?” she asked; “Why don’t you go inside to your family?”

3.)   “Why do you look so upset?” he inquired; “What do you have to worry about these days?”

Unless followed by the beginning of a quotation or a proper noun or subject, semicolons are followed by a lower-case letter. You can see from these examples and the explanations given that semicolons are a key part of English grammar and punctuation. Whether its with connecting short independent clauses or bringing together a series of quotations, semicolons can be very useful in English writing. The most important use of semicolons remains making lists especially of different people and places along with their descriptive qualities. Please be sure to follow the example sentences I have given to form your own semicolon sentences. Keep practicing, do your best, and be sure to read this blog post again in the future to better understand this important punctuation mark.

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. 

English Corner – Countable and Uncountable Nouns

It’s important to distinguish between countable and uncountable nouns in English because their usage is different in regard to both the determiners and the verbs. Countable and Uncountable nouns are grammatical topics that are likely to come up again and again in your studies so it’s important to know the main differences between them. If you are looking to improve your usage of numbers and to know how to use them to refer to person(s), place(s), and things(s), which are one or more in amount, then you will need to have a good grasp of countable and uncountable nouns.

Compared to many other grammar topics, countable and uncountable nouns are among the easiest to master but they are also the easiest ones to make careless mistakes about. By not paying enough attention to these basic rules, you will put yourself at risk of not referring to them correctly in either a direct or indirect manner. Please be sure to use the examples below to better your understanding and to also write out your own example sentences as well to get more practice. With enough effort, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the significance of one cow and five pencils. Most nouns are countable but there are a few exceptions which are not countable which you will find out more about in the rest of this ‘English Corner’ blog post.

Countable nouns are for things we can count using numbers. They have a singular and a plural form. The singular form can use the determiner “a” or “an”. If you want to ask about the quantity of a countable noun, you ask “How many _______?” combined with the plural countable noun.

Singular: One cat, one woman, one job, one store, one idea.

Plural: Two cats, three women, four jobs, five stores, six ideas.

She has three dogs. I own a house. I would like two books please. How many friends do you have?

Examples of Uncountable Nouns: tea, sugar, water, air, rice, knowledge, beauty

We cannot use a/an with these nouns. To express a quantity of an uncountable noun, use a word or expression like some, a lot of, much, a bit of, a great deal of, or else use an exact measurement like a cup of, a bag of, 1kg of, 1L of, a handful of, a pinch of, an hour of, a day of. If you want to ask about the quantity of an uncountable noun, you ask “How much?”

-There has been a lot of research into the causes of this disease.

-He gave me a great deal of advice before my interview.

-Can you give me some information about uncountable nouns?

-He did not have much sugar left.

-Measure 1 cup of water, 300g of flour, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

-How much rice do you want?

Exceptions to the Rule of Countable v. Uncountable

Some nouns are countable in other languages but uncountable in English. They must follow the rules for uncountable nouns.

The most common ones are:
accommodation, advice, baggage, behavior, bread, furniture, information, luggage, news, progress, traffic

  • I would like to give you some advice.
  • How much bread should I bring?
  • I didn’t make much progress today.
  • This looks like a lot of trouble to me.
  • We did an hour of work yesterday.

Be careful with the noun hair, which is normally uncountable in English, so it is not used in the plural form. However, It can be countable only when referring to certain examples such as the individual hairs on someone’s head.

Examples:

1) Did you wash your hair last night?

2) Your dad is getting some grey hairs on his beard.

As shown in the multiple amount of examples, Countable nouns can be singular or plural although they mostly are plural in usage. This is in contrast with uncountable nouns which are only singular in their nature and can never be plural. This is an important grammatical distinction which will help you to understand the main difference between these two types of nouns. Do your best to study these examples, create your own sentences, and know why countable nouns are singular and plural while uncountable nouns are only singular. Whether it’s one potato or a hundred potatoes, you have to be able to count both.

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.