Tackle Different Forms of Verbs (Cont’d)
It is easier to identify grammatical errors than style issues. Hence, for the various aspects of verbs, I first discussed last Tuesday the problems of “missing finite verbs” and “wrong tense” which are both grammatical errors. Today, we will look at the style issues of verbs in the SAT Improving Sentences section.
4c. Unnecessary use of passive voice
Structure of passive voice: be + past participle
If the subject does not perform, but is affected by, the action of the main verb, passive voice should be used.
- Smoking is not allowed in the cinema.
Awkward use of passive voice
Passive voice may lower the readability of an essay because it is less direct, weaker and, often, more wordy than active voice. It may be weaker because the doer of the action only appears later in the sentence or never. An indefinite doer may compromise meaning and clarity. Below example shows that active voice is more direct, lively and emphatic. “Who” cherished the opportunity is an important piece of information in this sentence.
- Passive voice: The opportunity of meeting the president of the environmental protection committee is cherished (by me).
- Active voice: I cherished the opportunity of meeting the president of the environmental protection committee.
Whenever you see an underlined passive construction, check whether it makes the sentence awkward or wordy.
Do not readily reject passive voice
That said active voice is often preferred for essay writing. An effective essay requires both voices to ensure smooth flow of ideas and increase sentence variety. Passive voice is useful when the doer of the action is unknown or irrelevant. So, do not readily reject passive voice. Very often, the subject of the sentence will determine the voice that should be used. Both of the following sentences are effective. The choice of voice depends on whether you need to identify the doer.
- Passive voice: Confucius is still highly honored today.
- Active voice: Chinese society still highly honors Confucius today.
4d. Static verbs seldom take –ing form
Static verbs as suggested by the name are verbs which refer to a state, condition or perception (see, hear, smell, taste, etc.). They cannot normally take the continuous form unless they are used for stress. The SAT often test if students can spot the unnecessary use of static verbs, especially “be”, in continuous forms. On the other hand, dynamic verbs refer to actions which can take continuous form if needed.
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(Next Tue: Identifying Sentence Errors – 4.Verb forms cont'd)