Daily Archives: December 17, 2006

Overusing the passive voice?

I am a senior student. My English teacher says I am overusing the passive voice. Can you give me some ideas on this?

Here is a clear explanation of active and passive voice from Purdue University’s excellent OWL pages.

Here is a simple quiz on the subject.

This explanation from UNC-CH Writing Center is also very good. See also LEO: Literacy Education Online: Active and Passive Verbs.

Some of the problems caused by using the passive voice are described by The Guide to Grammar and Writing.

From Yale University comes this more advanced explanation of ineffective use of passive voice. Here is a brief extract:

Sentences in the passive voice do not inherently lead to deceitfulness, but it is much more difficult to evade hard truths when you write in the active voice. Avoid passive constructions whenever possible, since they are often vague. For example:

Public television can be perceived by some as boring. When its programs are viewed, they seem tedious and cannot be easily understood. The interest of a wide audience is not attracted. This narrowness of appeal is imputed to excessive intellectualism. How can this be supported by a so-called “public” network?

These unfortunate sentences should be rewritten: “Many viewers find public television boring because it is too intellectual, a questionable quality in a ‘public’ network.” Most of us have a natural desire to avoid straightforward assertions like this because they bring on us the burden of controversy. Good writers distinguish themselves by their willingness to accept that burden.

This article also explains legitimate use of the passive.

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Posted by on December 17, 2006 in English grammar, English language, esl for students, questions asked, student help, writing


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What happens to tense in Indirect (Reported) Speech?

I was asked this question by a Latin teacher at Sydney Boys High — yes, they still do Latin! — looking for resources for her class which was over 80% language background other than English, mainly of Chinese background.

I found this rather good summary on a German English-language site.

BBC English was asked a very similar question: Rasanka Saroshini Nissanka from Sri Lanka asks: “Please explain to me all about direct and indirect speech.” Here is the answer!

Here is another neat summary from English Zone

This page brings together some tests and quizzes on Reported Speech.


Of course if it is Latin you are worried about, look at PRAEFATIO de ORATIONE OBLIQUA. Now that is really cool; an Internet Latin Grammar! The author says he wrote it “in order to assist the students of the Latin language at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. When complete, it is my intention that this on-line grammar, although it is not intended to be exhaustive, will allow the student to identify and generate any part of speech in any conjugated or declined form in order to facilitate their translation of Latin text.” Shame about the background swamping the print sometimes though…

This is another summary of the Latin way of doing Indirect Speech: Ohio State University: Department of Greek and Latin.

Visit the Online activities for the Cambridge Latin Course.

[Checked 18 September 2007.]

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Posted by on December 17, 2006 in English grammar, English language, esl for students, questions asked, student help, writing


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What are “idioms” and how can I learn more about them?

What is an idiom?

RECOMMENDED: Collins COBUILD Dictionary of Idioms. Go to their IDIOM OF THE WEEK.

“Idioms are words, phrases, or expressions that are unusual either grammatically, as in ‘Long time, no see!’ or there is a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements, as in ‘It’s raining cats and dogs!’ Every language has idioms, and they are challenging for foreign students to learn. – English-Zone.Com

“A speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements, as in keep tabs on.” (There are other meanings too at

“Idioms are phrases and sentences that do not mean exactly what they say. Even if you know the meaning of every word in the idiom you see or hear, you may not understand the idiom because you don’t understand the culture behind it.” – Brigham Young University site. (I had to insert some words in that to make it make sense! But the site is still good.)

What is the difference between idiom and slang?

“Idiom is yesterday’s slang and slang is tomorrow’s idiom. In other words, idiom is slang that has, through use and over time, become acceptable to use in informal language.” – Lindsay Lyons (NZ — site no longer available).

English Idioms – Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms and the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms online.

Idiomsite: find out why you say what you say (American).

English Idioms & Proverbs at Brigham Young University (American).

ESL Cafe Idiom Pages is American but easy to use.

English-Zone.Com Idioms Page – good, but not all available unless you register.

An interactive idiom quiz.

A whole page of idiom quizzes!

Australian Slang – What does it all mean?

[Update 18 September 2007.]

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Posted by on December 17, 2006 in English language, esl for students, questions asked, student help, writing


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