Monday, October 12, 2009

Passive Voice : When to drop by+agent

Dear readers,

In my previous post I discussed passive voice from the point of view of sentence focus . In the present post I am going to discuss " agent deletion"in passive sentences .

Look at the following sentences

1 Tom is re-painting the car .

2The car is being re-painted by Tom

The meaning of both the sentences is the same .In the passive version the sentence elements, subject and object, are seen from a different perspective . The active subject (Tom)is seen as an agent (instrument) through the action of which the active object is in a certain state (re-painted) , indicated by the past participle of the verb . The past participle has the force of adjectives in passive sentences . That is why suitable forms of the verb be are used before it . Remember, the verb always agrees with the passive subject !

The active subject is expressed as a by + agent phrase But as end-focus is the rule in English ,by+agent is required only when we want to focus on it . Example

By whom is the car re-painted?

It is re-painted by Tom.(focus on Tom )

It follows that by-phrase can be dropped if it does not carry focus!

Generally speaking, by-phrase can be dropped if the agent is unknown or it is too well-known to be worth mentioning . Example

1 He was killed in a drunken brawl .

2 She was murdered and the police are investgating .

3 He was admitted to the hospital yesterday .

$ Obama was elected President.

5 Many American soldiers were killed in Vietnam.

Non-native learners of English may find it difficult to grasp the rationale behind English passive voice This is definitely due to the influence of their first languages .

Dear readers , I will continue the discussion in my next post

Thank you

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