Following many requests for help, Grammar Puss has decided to start a new blog for parents. Grammar Puss for parents

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The passive voice - using different verb tenses and forms

A colleague asked me the other day about using the passive in different verb tenses and forms and what these would look like.  Most teachers are fairly confident in using the simple present and simple past passive forms, but it is important to know what the other forms look like, especially when identifying good examples in authentic texts to use in class.   

As the passive is included in the statutory appendix of the 2014 National Curriculum and is required teaching for year 6 pupils, I thought it might be useful to post some key subject knowledge about the active and passive voices and detail the most common passive tenses and forms, with examples.

Most of the sentences we write are in the active voice.  In this structure, the subject of the sentence is the person or thing which is doing the action and the object of the sentence is what is being affected by the action.  For example:
The dog      chased       the cat.
subject               verb               object
doing the      (active form)       affected by
action                                       the action

The passive voice is formed by using a form of the verb ‘be’ and the past participle of the main verb.  In the passive, the person or thing being affected by the action becomes the subject of the sentence; the person or thing doing the action may or may not be provided.  For example:
The cat        was chased.
subject          verb (past passive form)
by action
The cat        was chased          by the dog
subject                     verb                       preposition + the agent
affected         (past passive form)         doing the action
by action

Below are examples of different tenses and verb forms in the passive, using the main verb ‘fly’.  The list isn’t exhaustive, but provides the most common variations and a few less usual ones.

She is flown.                                             Simple present passive
She was flown.                                          Simple past passive
She is being flown.                                     Present continuous passive
She was being flown.                                 Past continuous passive
She has been flown.                                  Present perfect passive
She had been flown.                                  Past perfect passive
She will be flown.                                      Simple future passive
She is going to be flown.                           Simple future passive (is going to)
She will be being flown.                             Future continuous passive
She is going to be being flown.                   Future continuous passive (although I find this an ugly structure)
She has been being flown.                         Present perfect continuous passive
She had been being flown.                         Past perfect continuous passive
She will have been flown.                           Future perfect passive
She is going to have been flown.                 Future perfect passive
She could have been flown.                       Conditional present perfect passive
She would have been being flown.              Conditional present perfect continuous passive

It will be important for children to understand that we use the passive to create more formality in writing and that it is often used to distance the writer from the content being presented.  In some cases this enables the writer to ‘hide’ responsibility.  For example, the omission of the agent in the sentence below would hide who to blame or to thank, depending on your point of view and occupation.  (Although for many teachers I know, this would be a shorter working day!)

‘It has been decided to extend the school day to 9.00 pm.’

Of course, when writing, we may not know who the agent is and cannot include this information in our sentence.  For example, in journalistic writing, the perpetrator of a crime may not be known: The statue was damaged last night, at around ten.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

More dragons: developing sentence structure using online texts

If you’re running with the theme of dragons, then a great online text is ‘A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons’.  Containing extracts from the book, this online resource contains a number of pages which provide descriptions and details about some of the deadly dragons. 

I would use this text to help children develop:
·         Description (linked to adjective, simile and noun phrase tools in the Sentence Toolkit).  This could range from adding one or two adjectives to describe an attribute, to building up more subtle descriptions, e.g. ‘all shades of brown’; ‘as black as your darkest nightmare’.  It could also be used to help the children understand the difference between description suitable for narrative and the more precise description used in non-fiction texts (although this is still a fantasy based text, so contains some narrative-like description in places).
·         Punctuation (screwdrivers in the Sentence Toolkit).  There are some good examples in this text demonstrating correct use of commas in lists and to demarcate clauses, but also use of hyphens, brackets and dashes.  However, there is perhaps rather more use of ellipses than you would want to see in your children’s writing.

Once you have investigated the dragons with the children and explored the sentence structures and punctuation you want to develop, children could design their own dragons.  These could then be used to compile a group or class book of more deadly dragons.

Poppy has designed her dragon below.  I would use a picture such as this for shared writing, so that I could model writing each stage of the description and the detailed paragraph.

To see other texts recommended on this blog, click here.  And for more Texts that Teach, check out this link.