ePub 版

that the passive directs attention to them. The end-position of the by phrase makes it possible to write of them at some length, in the seven-word segment: thieves who entered our courtyard after dark.

Examples like the foregoing also show how suspense can be produced by the passive, since the passive can delay delivery of wanted information. Suspense, of course, accounts for the use of inversion in periodic sentences, like "In the beginning was the Word" and "Underneath are the everlasting arms." In the periodic sentence, the writer withholds until the end of the clause an element essential to the sense. And so, in a slightly different fashion, does end-placement enhance dramatic effect in aphorisms like Hawthorne's “Life is made up of marble and mud” and Shaw's “In the end there is only thought.”

Quite possibly, regard for the power of sentence-final position is what often leads writers to choose the passive. Consider the following from Dear Abby:

(Query: Did the use of the passive really diminish the role of the church in that transaction? Compare the active version of the sentence: The First

Methodist Church purchased it in 1959.) Such examples raise questions about the customary explanation of the passive. Often, it seems, passive sentences with by do not indeed divert attention from the agents of actions. What then do they do? Another sentence from the Daily Camera offers a clue:

a 5. She was attended by her sister-in-law, Mrs. Jeffrey

Bauer, who wore an empire gown of cranberry jersey and carried chrysanthemums, carnations

and snapdragons. If students are asked to convert this into an active sentence, one purpose of the passive should become clear. There is just too much information about the agent of this action to be stuffed into subject position. When the agent is put into a by phrase, however, the subject can be closely followed by a predicate verb (She was attended) a favored arrangement for English sentences. Then the copious details related to the agent of the action can be spread over the open spaces beyond the verb. That seems a plausible reason for choosing the passive in the phrasing of Example 5. In that sentence, the bride and what happened to her are certainly not the center or focus of attention; the sister-in-law clearly is.

A comparable motive may be at work in the choice of passive for the following sentence, where it would have been awkward to say enough about the agent of the action within the space normal for subject territory: 6. The foundation was set up by the popular pianist,

Liberace, who dazzles audiences with candela

bras, glittering jackets and keyboard acrobatics. It would be hard to deny that the agent (the person who set up the foundation) is the center of interest here. Putting him into a by phrase does nothing to dim the spotlight. On the contrary, the passive construction provides open space in which to elaborate upon him.

In a sentence from "Letters to the Editor," we see similar use of post-verb territory for saying all that needs to be said about the agent of the action: 7. The day after his 11th birthday one of your Daily

Camera carriers' bicycle was stolen from his home-along with the bicycle of his friend—by

thieves who entered our courtyard after dark.' Here the passive does little or nothing to divert attention from the perpetrators of the theft. It may even be

8. Not only does her beloved husband die a lingering

death with cancer, she's spied upon by a nosy, sus

picious, uncharitable neighbor. This example shows how passives offer possibilities for using the powerful end-position of an English sentence. See how the colorful indignation of Abby fades in this active version: ... a nosy, suspicious, uncharitable neighbor spies upon her.

Not that passives are always, under all circumstances, better than active sentences! (Unfortunately that is the message students often think they are getting from lessons on passive transformations.) On the other hand, it is equally misleading to assert that active sentences are always clearer and stronger than their passive counterparts, as gurus of "plain talk" frequently claim.

It appears that the passive serves a number of purposes. Obviously the passive is the option to use when one cannot or should not or need not state the agent. In such a sentence, with no agent expressed, attention is naturally focused on the action itself, and on its receiv


But that is not the only purpose of the passive.

When the by-phrase passive is used, perhaps it is to provide variety, a passive counterpoint to a series of active sentences. Or the passive is chosen for its effect on sentence cadence: a more pleasing arrangement of syllables may result. Contexts needed for illustrating those reasons would be too lengthy for our present space.

The examples we have examined, however, suggest the following: – Sometimes the active option is rejected because

much needs to be said about the agent-more than can comfortably fit before the verb. In a passive sentence, the agent (in post-verb by-phrase) can be treated at length.

1. EDITOR'S NOTE: The awkwardness resulting from the piling up of nouns and the juxtaposition of singulars and plurals in the phrase one of your Daily Camera carriers bicycle can be eliminated by changing the phrase to the bicycle of one of your Daily Camera carriers, which makes it clear that one of goes with your carriers. not with bicycle. (This comment on the style bears no relation, however, to the discussion of the passive for which the sentence serves as an illustration.)

[ocr errors]

The writer may wish to delay stating the agent as
long as possible. A by-phrase at the end of the
sentence can serve this purpose.
Like the inversion that characterizes periodic sen-
tences, the shifting of agent to end-position in
passives is a means of creating suspense.
Since the end of a sentence is often marked by
pitch-change and strong stress, a writer may draw
attention to the agent through use of the passive.
The by-phrase is placed where the major stress

falls. Such points, among others, deserve to be mentioned when the purpose of the passive is discussed.

often do) point out these fundamental facts about passive sentences:

The subject receives the action; it does not perform the action of the predicate verb:

Those trees have been destroyed.

Worms are eaten. If the performer of the action is named at all, it is named in a phrase with by:

have been destroyed (by fire)...

are eaten by birds. ... The predicate contains at least one past participle:

are eaten ...

have been destroyed ...
The predicate contains a form of the verb BE:

... are eaten ...

... have been destroyed ... When students learn that certain specified points apply to any passive sentence, they perceive there is order where none was apparent before. Such evidence of system encourages the student: where there is system, there is hope that the system can be learned.

Constructing Passive Sentences with Help from

the New Grammars

[ocr errors]

Sooner or later, in most English courses, students are asked to convert active sentences into passive ones. Usually the teacher draws attention to active examples (like Birds eat worms and Fire has destroyed those trees) along with their passive equivalents (Worms are eaten by birds and those trees have been destroyed by fire). Then, the students try to convert other active sentences that appear on the blackboard or textbook page. Results are often unsatisfactory to students and teacher alike.

The conversion exercise is based on a reasonable premise: a good way to learn something new is to see it contrasted with something already known. Therefore, once learners can form active sentences (and know what they mean) it should be helpful to show some active models and then display the passive counterparts. It is, in fact, helpful. But for many students the mere display of models is not enough. When students seem confused about the conversion process, we teachers should lead them to discover just what the process involves. Basic facts about passive sentences

Among teachers who have learned English as a native language, many seem unable to state precisely how passive sentences differ from active ones. Having acquired the passive in childhood, they cannot recall developing any awareness of its crucial features. In this respect, teachers who learned English as a foreign language in school are better prepared to clear up confusion about the active/passive contrast. They can (and

Further guidance needed

Still, to list those essential features is not to solve all problems. Although the listed points can help one determine whether a given sentence could be called passive, they do not tell one how to form passive sentences.

For instance, when a student is called upon to produce the passive counterpart for The Ace Company is building several hotels, it does not help much to know that—in any passive sentence-"the predicate contains a form of the verb BE."

“Which form of BE must I use?" the student wonders. “Should I choose am, is, are, was, or were—or been, or being, or the simplest form: be?" (As a matter of fact, the passive version of that Ace Company sentence contains two forms of BE: Several hotels are being built by the Ace Company.)

To offer the best help, a guide to constructing the passive should eliminate such uncertainties. Moreover, it should be phrased as a set of step-by-step directions. It should let students know what steps to follow, and in what order-much as buyers of new bicycles follow printed instructions for assembling the bicycle parts.

In earlier times, there was little chance of finding anything like step-by-step directions for sentence construction in the works of linguistic scholars. Their focus was on describing finished sentences—those which native speakers had already written or said.

In recent years, on the other hand, scholarly thought has often gone into investigating the “generatings of sentences—the evolution of ideas into word groups and then into various kinds of sentences. This new emphasis

This article has been adapted from the original version, which appeared in Inside English, How You Can Use Insights from Linguistics and The New Grammar in the Language Classroom (New York: Regents, 1982). Used with permission.

[blocks in formation]



has perhaps led teachers to expect more help than scholars generally give.

It is easy to forget that a scholar's aim is not the same as a teacher's. Linguistic scholars try to state the whole truth as they find it; and that is too much truth for language learners to grasp. For this reason, among others, we teachers seldom get ready-to-use directions for sentence building from grammarians, even today. We can, however, produce our own sets of directions, making use of the scholars' data.

Most of all, we can try to divide each large grammatical task into several separate smaller ones. When we do that, we act within the spirit of the New Grammars, and other contemporary fields where complex tasks are reduced to small, discrete steps. A step-by-step derivation

Here is how a teacher-made set of directions can help students derive passive sentences from active ones, beginning with simple, affirmative, declarative sentences like these:

A robot killed the science professor.
Dr. Cox will perform the operation.
Miller has written many plays.
Hilton is selling three hotels.

Step A: Put by before the subject, producing a byphrase:

*by a robot killed the science professor
* by Dr. Cox will perform the operation
*by Miller has written many plays
*by Hilton is selling three hotels

(When we show each step in the process separately, the string of words for that stage may not look like an English sentence. The asterisk (*) is used to mark such strings. We explain: just as a human embryo in the womb goes through stages of not looking human, so a string of words may look ungrammatical on its way to becoming a passive sentence.)

Step B: Reverse the order of the by-phrase and the object:

*the science professor killed by a robot
*the operation will perform by Dr. Cox
* many plays has written by Miller

* three hotels is selling by Hilton (This step requires careful attention to the complete byphrase and the complete object.)

Step C: Before the predicate verb, insert the form of BE that matches the form of the predicate verb; and also make the auxiliary which follows the new subject agree with the subject:

* Three hotels is selling by Hilton. (Why do we choose the form being to insert before selling? To match the predicate verb (selling) which is in its -ing form. Why change is to are? To make the auxiliary agree with the new subject. This is a good time to stress the fact that a form of BE must always be inserted into the sentence to form the passive, even if the active sentence already has some form of BE.)

Step D: If the predicate verb is not already in its pastparticiple form, change it to that form.

(This step is not needed for The science professor was killed by a robot or Many plays have been written by Miller. Why? Because their active counterparts already contained a past participle (written) or a verb that looks the same in both past and past participle forms (killed). But Step D must be applied to the other strings (those which still looked ungrammaticalas shown by the asterisks—in Step C]).

The operation will be perform by Dr. Cox.

Three hotels are being setting by Hilton.

Of course, we do not take the class through those steps for every sentence that is converted to passive. There is neither time nor need to do so. Just a few applications of the directions will make the essentials clear. Once the complex process has been seen as a series of individual steps, it is possible to know the precise point of difficulty when a student's sentence "doesn't sound right."

Is it that the wrong form of BE has been used? (Step C can guide the student to the right choice.) Has the predicate verb not been changed to its past participle form? (Step D indicates when that change is required.) Perhaps the student's problem is more basic still: an inability to find the object of the active sentence and put it into subject position. (This part of the process is fundamental, as shown by Steps A and B.)

continued on page 24


The science professor killed by a robot. (Since killed was in past form in the active sentence (A

Teaching Vocabulary through Riddles

Middle East Technical University


The building of vocabulary, which had been somewhat neglected in the audiolingual approach, is now receiving increasing emphasis. Teaching vocabulary is important, since the continual enlargement of the lexicon is intrinsic to both native- and second-language learning. Recently the terms active and passive vocabulary have been used in methodological literature. Active vocabulary occurs in speech production; passive occurs in speech or reading comprehension. Deciding whether an individual needs a particular word for active or passive use is very difficult for a teacher. Indeed, our needs as individuals vary, and as with native speakers, the second-language learner's lexicon will grow according to his own needs; for it is by need that words will be learned and retained. Otherwise, words quickly memorized and not needed are soon forgotten.

A delightful way to encourage students to enlarge their vocabulary is to use riddles in the classroom. Riddles are ideal since they are conversational, involving a question and answer, thereby setting up a very short but essential context. Riddles thus provide an environment in which a specific word is used.

In understanding a riddle, focus is given both to the particular word involved and the environment of that word. Although riddles are puzzles in which the answer can eventually be figured out—sometimes only after much thought—in the English-speaking culture, usually the guesser, after pondering for a few seconds, replies, “I don't know," to which the poser of the riddle, gleefully chuckling, reveals the answer. If the guesser still doesn't understand, he returns a puzzled look, saying, “I don't get it.” This cues the poser to reveal the meaning of the answer.

The joy of learning riddles is in being able to teach them to someone else, which results in communication. After understanding a riddle, students are eager to try it on their friends in other classrooms. Thus what begins as an unknown word or meaning, in turn becomes passive, then active, vocabulary. The humorous setting for riddles also aids in remembering the vocabulary item. Of course, in the process, an appreciation of the humor of a new culture is developed.

In choosing riddles for the classroom, it is necessary to choose carefully. Some riddles are of the questionand-ridiculously-simple-answer type: Q. If an egg is in a silver egg cup in New York City,

where did it come from? A. A hen. Or consider the following: Q. What should you do if you find a tiger in your

bed? A. Sleep somewhere else. The answer to this type of riddle is a surprise, since one expects a difficult or clever answer to the question. These riddles can be used in general comprehension

[ocr errors]

ANN LOUISE ŞEN recently resumed her post as chairman of the Humanities Department of the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester, after returning from a tour as Fulbright senior lecturer at the Middle East Technical University, Ankara. During her leave, she also carried out research on Turkish dialects in the Black Sea area. She received her M.A. in TESL from the University of Michigan in 1964 and her Ph.D. in linguistics from Princeton University in 1973. Dr. Şen has been involved in linguistics, languages, and ESL for more than twenty years. Her scholarly articles have appeared in nu-. merous journals.


practice, but do not depend on key vocabulary items for understanding

A second type of riddle, which depends on phonetic similarity as well as cultural knowledge, is too difficult to use with second-language students. Too much explanation is necessary, and lacking the cultural experience, the humor is often lost.

A. /faul/ (foul:fowl) language.

However, even words with identical spelling and pronunciation may have multiple meanings. I term these semantic riddles:

Q. What is the highest building in Chicago?
A. The public library, because it has the most sto-

ries. 2

Q. What do you call a bird that flies into a lawn

mower? A. Shredded tweet.

Here it is necessary to know that tweet is an onomatopoeic word for bird call, and that tweet, or tweetie, is often used for bird. Then one must also know that shredded wheat is a common American breakfast cereal. Then these are linked together by phonetic similarity, since tweet rhymes with wheat, causing a native speaker to rollick with laughter, but a second-language learner to remain puzzled and lost. Understanding this is of course too much to expect from a second-language student.

Another kind of riddle depends on syntactic ambiguity.

Q. Is it better for a lion to eat you, or a tiger?
A. It's better for him to eat the tiger.

and Q. Why did John tiptoe past the medicine chest?

A. He was afraid he'd awaken the sleeping pills. Their multiple meanings are due to ambiguous surface structure, but can be resolved in the deep structure. These riddles require a grammatical sophistication beyond the level of beginning and intermediate students.

The type of riddle most useful for vocabulary development is the conundrum, a riddle in which a double meaning is involved. These are humorous because of semantic ambiguity due to phonetic identity. Phonetic riddles are meant to be spoken, since the ambiguity is due to the pronunciation—for, in the written language, the key word is spelled differently: Q. If a chicken could talk, what kind of language

For use in the classroom, students are given handouts containing lists of riddles and answers, with the ambiguous item underlined. Then with the aid of a good dictionary, the students are asked to define the multiple meanings of the word in question by writing down the two interpretations of the riddle. Then the students must use each meaning in another context. Thus students receive practice in using the dictionary and in writing too. These exercises can be done individually in class or as homework, or by pairs or small groups to encourage cooperation and conversation in the classroom. I would suggest not doing more than ten at a time or the assignment will be tedious, and under the effort to finish the task, both the humor and spontaneous enjoyment will suffer. If you do the exercises in class, you will be delighted with the smiles and laughter, sure signs that the riddle is being understood.




Directions: Read each riddle. The word in phonetic no-
tation is the pronunciation of the two alternatives given
later. Tell what you understand the riddle to mean with
each of the two words. Then write a new sentence using
each word.
1. Q. What do you put on a horse that goes out at

A. A/sætəlait.
a. satellite:

b. saddle light:

2. Q. Why are cats such gossips?
A. They always carry /teilz/ with them.
a. tail(s):

sentence: b. tale(s):

sentence: 3. Q. What did the elephant do when he broke his

would it speak?


1. EDITOR'S NOTE: In the first riddle, the ambiguity is between the use of tiger as subject or object of eat—that is, whether it is an alternative to lion or you. The element of surprise in the answer comes partly from the fact that the classificatory similarity of lion and tiger tends to suggest the subject alternative as the more probable choice. In any case, the ambiguity is more pure in the written than in the spoken language, for in the latter case, slight differences in stress and intonation would tend to signal the intended meaning. In the second riddlc, on the other hand, the source of ambiguity is entirely in the answer, not the question. The noun phrase (compound noun, or gerund + noun) sleeping pills (pills to make one sleep) can also be whimsically interpreted as a participle + noun phrase meaning pills that are asleep. Here again the written language affords a purer ambiguity than the spoken language. since in the latter the more common meaning (gerund + noun) would have the stress pattern sleeping pills, while the whimsical meaning (participle + noun) would have the usual adjective + noun pattern sleeping pills.

2. EDITOR'S NOTE: stories: (1) tales, books; (2) Moors or levels of a building.

3. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, the Oxford Student's Dictionary of Current English, the Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary of Current English, or any good English-English dictio. nary appropriate for your students.

« 上一頁繼續 »