Passive in family conversations
Thread poster: vikeanna
Nov 16, 2011

Hello, I am doing a research on the usage of passive in conversations.Which sentence would you use in your speech? 1. Guess what happened: a bus has just run a man down
2. Guess what happened: a man has just been run down by a bus
Do you often use passive while talking to your relatives?


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:44
Spanish to English
+ ...
Yes Nov 16, 2011

I'd likely use either of the 2 forms. Maybe the second is the first form that springs to mind, i.e. the most natural, perhaps because it expresses something which did not directly affect the speaker.
I'd probably also say it less grammatically: "A man just got run over by a bus/hit by a bus when I was coming back from the shops..."

In natural spoken native English, we generally use all forms indiscriminately. No native English speaker really thinks about grammar when talking
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I'd likely use either of the 2 forms. Maybe the second is the first form that springs to mind, i.e. the most natural, perhaps because it expresses something which did not directly affect the speaker.
I'd probably also say it less grammatically: "A man just got run over by a bus/hit by a bus when I was coming back from the shops..."

In natural spoken native English, we generally use all forms indiscriminately. No native English speaker really thinks about grammar when talking, and the vast majority remain ignorant as to how the grammar of their language works.

Trying to learn the how the passive mood is used by means of rules seems a waste of time to me. My recommendation is to find real-life native-speaker examples of the target forms and try to acquire/learn them, either by repetition or situation practice.
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Allison Wright (X)  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 18:44
No. 2 Nov 16, 2011

I would use the passive form for every situation except one where it was obviously the bus' (or bus driver's) fault that the man got run over.

I would not say "run down", but "run over" (British English).

I see I have used "got run over" without thinking (like Neilmac). It is a valid grammatical construction, by the way.

If you are conducting a detailed research into the use of the passive voice, you will need a lot more examples than this one.

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I would use the passive form for every situation except one where it was obviously the bus' (or bus driver's) fault that the man got run over.

I would not say "run down", but "run over" (British English).

I see I have used "got run over" without thinking (like Neilmac). It is a valid grammatical construction, by the way.

If you are conducting a detailed research into the use of the passive voice, you will need a lot more examples than this one.

To answer your question: You haven't met my many relatives, but if you had you would soon realise that most of them do not give a toss as to how I phrase things, although some of them think I speak nicely.

As a linguist, I do not think that the markers of family closeness /informality are carried in entirely in the verbs.
For example, I could easily ask my mother something like, "Were you advised by the doctor to stop taking those little green pills?" Passive voice, but here the intimacy is conveyed in the words "those little green pills" (whose generic name and pharmaceutical name I probably know very well, but choose not to use in this instance). If I were speaking to her sister (my aunt) I might say, "The doctor told her (as opposed to, "she was advised by her doctor") to stop taking the Generic Name of Drug because they were making her dizzy." (Another passive in second half of sentence, but not in first!)

As Neilmac said, you will find it a challenge to extrapolate general rules from actual usage.

Edited for typo.

[Edited at 2011-11-16 09:21 GMT]

[Edited at 2011-11-16 09:35 GMT]
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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:44
German to English
enUS speaker Nov 16, 2011

Hello,

"Run over" is also the normal form for enUS. "Run down" is possible in enUS, but indicates that the bus driver intentionally ran over the man.

Even in very informal situations, I assume that I almost always use passive to describe situations where the object is much more important than the subject in terms of content. Here, I am more interested in the unfortunate man than in the bus. If, on the other hand, it were unclear whether a bus or a truck had run over the
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Hello,

"Run over" is also the normal form for enUS. "Run down" is possible in enUS, but indicates that the bus driver intentionally ran over the man.

Even in very informal situations, I assume that I almost always use passive to describe situations where the object is much more important than the subject in terms of content. Here, I am more interested in the unfortunate man than in the bus. If, on the other hand, it were unclear whether a bus or a truck had run over the man, then I would say: "A bus ran over the man."

And (more or less) like neilmac and Allison, I would probably actually say: "Somebody got hit (or "run over") by a bus."

Short answer: I do not actively avoid using passive in informal contexts.

Sincerely,
Michael
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XXXphxxx (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:44
Portuguese to English
+ ...
No. 2 and 'run over' Nov 16, 2011

'Run down' suggest you're ill, feeling under the weather.

 

matt robinson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:44
Member (2010)
Spanish to English
focus Nov 16, 2011

The choice of active or passive in spoken English is often determined by the focus the speaker wishes to add, and the choice is therefore subjective.
Are you trying to demonstrate something specific relating to the passive voice, or is it merely observational research?

Non-native speakers of English may believe the passive voice is less common or more formal than the active voice, as it is usually taught at a later stage.


 

Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:44
German to English
+ ...
+1 to this from another EN US speaker Nov 16, 2011

Michael Wetzel wrote:

Hello,

"Run over" is also the normal form for enUS. "Run down" is possible in enUS, but indicates that the bus driver intentionally ran over the man.

Even in very informal situations, I assume that I almost always use passive to describe situations where the object is much more important than the subject in terms of content. Here, I am more interested in the unfortunate man than in the bus. If, on the other hand, it were unclear whether a bus or a truck had run over the man, then I would say: "A bus ran over the man."

And (more or less) like neilmac and Allison, I would probably actually say: "Somebody got hit (or "run over") by a bus."

Short answer: I do not actively avoid using passive in informal contexts.

Sincerely,
Michael


 

James McVay  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:44
Russian to English
+ ...
I agree with Matt Nov 16, 2011

matt robinson wrote:

The choice of active or passive in spoken English is often determined by the focus the speaker wishes to add, and the choice is therefore subjective.


That's right. In English, the thing the speaker considers most important is usually put at the front of a sentence, so if I wanted to emphasize the plight of the victim, I would probably say, "A man got hit (or run over) by a a bus this morning." If I were focusing on what caused the accident, I might say, "A bus hit/ran over a man this morning." I wouldn't even think about what voice to use.

Incidentally, that general rule applies to both informal speech and written language, although the complexity of a thought may overrule it, especially in very formal writing.


 

Dave Bindon  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 20:44
Member (2010)
Greek to English
I agree.. Nov 16, 2011

...too. Use of the passive is alive and well in everyday spoken English.

I can, however, think of a couple of cases where normal spoken English seems to avoid the passive. I feel - and this is just a personal opinion with no facts to back it up - that the passive is avoided when it's some sort of 'impersonal' construction which can be rephrased by using an impersonal 'they' or 'people'.

For example:

"The pub is said to have the best beer in London" would n
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...too. Use of the passive is alive and well in everyday spoken English.

I can, however, think of a couple of cases where normal spoken English seems to avoid the passive. I feel - and this is just a personal opinion with no facts to back it up - that the passive is avoided when it's some sort of 'impersonal' construction which can be rephrased by using an impersonal 'they' or 'people'.

For example:

"The pub is said to have the best beer in London" would normally be expressed as "They say (that) the pub has the best beer in London".
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Tim Cleary
Local time: 18:44
French to English
+ ...
No2 Nov 16, 2011

I just wanted to say that the second option seems more natural to me, but with a copule of changes to the vocabulary (as has already been mentioned by others here).

I just wanted to test my opinion by changing the vocabulary and the type of verb used. In the examples you gave, the verb is a prepositional verb, so I give similar examples:

1) Imagine what I just saw: a cyclist just cut a taxi up. (I would actually say "cut up a taxi", but both formulations feel cumbersome
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I just wanted to say that the second option seems more natural to me, but with a copule of changes to the vocabulary (as has already been mentioned by others here).

I just wanted to test my opinion by changing the vocabulary and the type of verb used. In the examples you gave, the verb is a prepositional verb, so I give similar examples:

1) Imagine what I just saw: a cyclist just cut a taxi up. (I would actually say "cut up a taxi", but both formulations feel cumbersome)

2) Imagine what I just saw: a taxi has just been cut up by a cyclist. (I might also say "got cut up by a cyclist")

The decision I make is not really based on the level of formaility or informality, but with how cumbersome it feels to express the phrase, either in the passive or active voice. Also, as others have already mentioned, the focus of the phrase is important: in example 2, placing 'taxi' at the beginning of the phrase emphasises the element of surprise that a cyclist could do this, when normally (here in London at least) you would expect a cyclist to be cut up by a ruthless taxi driver.

I hope this helps in some way.
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Dave Bindon  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 20:44
Member (2010)
Greek to English
On the subject of passive constructions Nov 16, 2011

I've just come across this wonderful 'made-up' sentence which shows that 'active' sentences aren't always clear:

"The rat the cat the dog bit chased escaped"

"The rat that was chased by the cat that had been bitten by the dog escaped" is longer, but much clearer.


 

Rita Szilagyi
United Kingdom
English to Hungarian
+ ...
what cat? Nov 17, 2011

Well, this first one took me some time to puzzle out. You do need those commas:
The rat the cat, the dog bit (maybe even: dog-bit?), chased escaped.
Even like that sounds ... er ... strange.

Rita

[Edited at 2011-11-17 11:16 GMT]


 


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