Posts Tagged ‘english grammar’

Frequently Asked Question on Passive Voice — Part 1

We have seen through the usage of active and pas­sive voice in pre­vi­ous posts of this blog. In this arti­cle we would address some of the fre­quently asked ques­tions on pas­sive voice.
Let us start by reca­pit­u­lat­ing the bare essentials.

Pas­sive voice is used to hide the essen­tial infor­ma­tion. Let us see the play of pas­sive voice through var­i­ous examples.

  • This sen­tence was writ­ten yes­ter­day. (But I have no idea who wrote it.)

The mes­sage can be even more abbre­vi­ated and obtuse:

  • This sen­tence was writ­ten. (But by whom, when, and .…?)

Even if we include the miss­ing infor­ma­tion, the empha­sis is deflected from the issue of who wrote the sen­tence because the sub­ject of the sen­tence (the focus of atten­tion) is not “who the author is”. The author (the doer) is almost par­en­thet­i­cal information.

  • This sen­tence was writ­ten yes­ter­day by one of my tech­ni­cal people.
  • This sen­tence was writ­ten yes­ter­day (by one of my tech­ni­cal people).


Using pas­sive voice is gram­mat­i­cally incorrect:

To answer this ques­tion we would start with the def­i­n­i­tion of pas­sive voice in a dif­fer­ent light. A pas­sive voice occurs when the object is super­im­posed on the sub­ject of the sen­tence. In other words, who­ever or what­ever is per­form­ing the action is not the gram­mat­i­cal sub­ject of the sen­tence i.e. men­tioned or inferred in the sen­tence. With this def­i­n­i­tion you would have real­ized, how often we face the need of pas­sive voice. Most of the times the sub­ject is inferred but as always a deduced sub­ject will be prone to con­fu­sion. Let’s see another example.

  • Why was the road crossed by the chicken?

In the above exam­ple if you observe care­fully, you can see the road is the gram­mat­i­cal sub­ject. Due to this struc­tur­ing the chicken here becomes the gram­mat­i­cal object. The more famil­iar way of putting this sen­tence why did the chicken cross the road? puts the object and the sub­ject at their respec­tive places. We use active verbs to rep­re­sent that “doing,” whether it is cross­ing roads, propos­ing ideas, mak­ing argu­ments, or invad­ing houses. You would have seen by now, how usage of pas­sive voice is just a mere exten­sion of say­ing things indi­rectly. It is just a styl­is­tic issue which per­tains to clarity.

Usage of “to be” makes the sen­tence passive:

There is a golden rule to iden­tify pas­sive voice.

form of “to be” + past par­tici­ple = pas­sive voice

The pas­sive voice is much more than using a verb. It’s about rep­re­sen­ta­tion of thoughts from clar­ity per­spec­tive. If you notice care­fully the above for­mula, you would notice that iden­ti­fy­ing “to be” and a past par­tici­ple would def­i­nitely make the sen­tence pas­sive. But using “to be” can cur­tail the flow of writ­ing and cer­tainly make the write a lot less impact­ful. But you should remem­ber “to be” does not by itself con­sti­tute the pas­sive voice, it is occa­sion­ally nec­es­sary. Not every sen­tence that con­tains a form of “have” or “be” is passive!

We have by now looked into few of the mis­con­cep­tions related to pas­sive voice. In the next arti­cle we would look into few other FAQs.

How to use Punctuation Marks — Part 2

I hope you put to prac­tice the rules stated in the pre­vi­ous post where I talked about punc­tu­a­tion marks. Extend­ing for­ward in this post we would look into the most oft used punc­tu­a­tion marks– com­mas, semi colons etc.

Excla­ma­tion Mark

Excla­ma­tion marks are used to show the inten­sity of emo­tions. It is often used in direct speech and infor­mal notes, mes­sages and let­ters. The excla­ma­tion mark is used to express gasps, aston­ish­ment or sur­prise or to empha­size a com­ment or short, sharp phrase. It is less com­mon in for­mal writing.


  • Great work! Congratulations!
  • “Leave me alone!” she screamed


The com­mas are undoubt­edly the most used excla­ma­tion marks. They help in mak­ing the sen­tence more con­cise.
There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent uses for com­mas in Eng­lish. Com­mas are used to:

  1. Sep­a­rate a list of items. This is one of the most com­mon uses of a comma. Notice that a comma is included before the con­junc­tion ‘and’ which comes before the final ele­ment of a list.

    • I like read­ing, lis­ten­ing to music, tak­ing long walks, and vis­it­ing with my friends.
    • They would like books, mag­a­zines, DVDs, video cas­settes, and other learn­ing mate­ri­als for their library.
  2. Sep­a­rate phrases (clauses). This is espe­cially true after a begin­ning depen­dent clause or a long prepo­si­tional phrase.

    • In order to qual­ify for your cer­tifi­cate, you will need to take the TOEFL exam.
    • Although he wanted to come, he wasn’t able to attend the course.
  3. Sep­a­rate two inde­pen­dent clauses that are con­nected by a con­junc­tion such as ‘but’.

    • They wanted to pur­chase a new car, but their finan­cial sit­u­a­tion would not allow it.
    • I’d really enjoy see­ing a film this evening, and I’d like to go out for a drink.
  4. Intro­duce a direct quote (as opposed to indi­rect speech i.e. He said he wanted to come …).

    • The boy said, “My father is often away dur­ing the week on busi­ness trips.
    • “His doc­tor replied, “If you don’t stop smok­ing, you run the risk of a heart attack.”
  5. Sep­a­rate appos­i­tives (a noun, or noun phrase) or non-defining rel­a­tive clauses.

    • Bill Gates, the rich­est man in the world, comes from Seattle.
    • My only sis­ter, who is a fan­tas­tic ten­nis player, is in great shape.

    Importance of Colon

    Impor­tance of Colon

Semi Colons

The semi­colon is placed some­where between a weak full stop and a strong comma. To dis­tin­guish between the weak full stop and strong comma you need to apply all the rules stated above in the comma header. Once you are sure about the need of a punc­tu­a­tion mark but none of the comma rules fit into it, then you are look­ing into semi colons. Semi­colons are used to join phrases and sen­tences with­out hav­ing to use con­junc­tion where the join­ing parts are inde­pen­dent by themselves.


He loves study­ing; He can’t get enough of school.
What an incred­i­ble sit­u­a­tion; it must make you nervous.


Colons pre­cede a list, an expla­na­tion or an exam­ple. You do not put a space before a colon, but you do need a space after one. A colon can be used for two purposes:

1. To pro­vide addi­tional details and explanation.


  • He had many rea­sons for join­ing the club: to get in shape, to make new friends, to lose some weight, and to get out of the house.
  • She gave notice for the fol­low­ing rea­sons: bad pay, hor­ri­ble hours, poor rela­tions with col­leagues, and her boss.

2. To intro­duce a direct quote (a comma can also be used in this situation).


  • He announced to his friends: “I’m get­ting married!”
  • She cried out: “I never want to see you again!”

How to use Punctuation Marks?

Punc­tu­a­tion means demar­cat­ing points. It means putting proper demar­cat­ing points in the right place to mark the length and mean­ing of sen­tences. Punc­tu­a­tion plays an impor­tant role in writ­ten Eng­lish world. In spo­ken world, pro­nun­ci­a­tion helps in effec­tive communication-making the mean­ing clear through tones. The same role is played by punc­tu­a­tion in writ­ten world. Hence punc­tu­a­tion essen­tially helps in dri­ving home your point of view. Punc­tu­a­tion helps in read­abil­ity by aid­ing in pro­nun­ci­a­tion and mak­ing sen­tences unclut­tered by using proper interjections.

Why is punc­tu­a­tion needed?

To under­stand the need of punc­tu­a­tion let us look at a pas­sage with­out punc­tu­a­tion and let us com­pare it with a pas­sage with punctuation.

“i would like to apply for a job with your com­pany for two years i have been employed as a sales clerk for the jones store i sold noth­ing that i did not take pride in i am sure it will be the same if i work for you”
Let us now look at the above pas­sage in light of punctuation.

“I would like to apply for a job with your com­pany. For two years I have been employed as a sales clerk for the Jones store. I sold noth­ing that I did not take pride in. I am sure it will be the same if I work for you.”

Now let us look at the same pas­sage from the point of view of improper punc­tu­a­tion placing.

Usage of Punctuation Marks

Usage of Punc­tu­a­tion Marks

“I would like to apply for a job with your com­pany for two years. I have been employed. As a sales clerk for the Jones store I sold noth­ing. That, I did not take pride in. I am sure it will be the same if I work for you.”

You can see how improper plac­ing of com­mas and full stops alters the mean­ing of sen­tences. So, one should be very care­ful while deal­ing punctuation.

Punc­tu­a­tion Marks

In this arti­cle we would pri­mar­ily look into the two punc­tu­a­tion marks often used in Eng­lish lan­guage namely the period, the ques­tion mark and the cap­i­tal let­ters. We shall see the oth­ers in the next arti­cle includ­ing com­mas and semi colons.


A period is used to com­plete a sen­tence. A sen­tence is a group of words con­tain­ing a sub­ject and pred­i­cate. A sen­tence is a col­lec­tion of words mak­ing com­plete sense. So once you find a group of words mak­ing com­plete sense, you must check whether a period is needed or not. In British Eng­lish a period is called a ‘full stop’.
He went to Lon­don last week.
He vis­ited his ances­tral home last month.

Ques­tion Marks

A ques­tion mark ends a sen­tence with a ques­tion. Basi­cally when the asker has the inten­tion of ask­ing a ques­tion, the sen­tence ends with a ques­tion mark.

Why is it so hot?
He went to Lon­don. Didn’t he?

Cap­i­tal Letters

The cap­i­tal let­ters are used in many places. Refer to the below men­tioned rules to under­stand the usage of cap­i­tal let­ters.
• At the start of a new sen­tence. Exam­ple: The cat sat on the mat. His owner sat nearby.
• For the let­ter “I” when you are refer­ring to your­self. Exam­ple: He can run faster than I can.
• For people’s names. Exam­ples: Mark Spencer.
• For titles. Exam­ples: Dr Jones, Mr Brown
• For book/film/company titles (main words only). Exam­ples: The God­fa­ther
• In direct speech, for the first spo­ken word. Exam­ple: She said, “My name is Mary.“
• For acronyms. Exam­ples: UNICEF
• For titles of days, months. Exam­ples: Mon­day, July
To under­stand and be flu­ent in punc­tu­a­tion please prac­tice the above men­tioned rules. In the next arti­cle we would see the most impor­tant punc­tu­a­tion marks namely comma and semi colon.

Learn how to use Question Tags

question tagQues­tion tag is one sim­ple thing that trou­bles many non-native Eng­lish speak­ers in using them. They are very easy to under­stand but they are tough to use in reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions because, they are often mixed up with assertive sen­tences. As you all know, there are four kind of sen­tences in Eng­lish, viz., Assertive, Inter­rog­a­tive, Imper­a­tive and Exclam­a­tory. All the sen­tences that we speak fall into one of the above cat­e­gories. Assertive sen­tences are gen­eral state­ments or the state­ments that are made in casual talk or writ­ing. Inter­rog­a­tive sen­tences are used for ask­ing questions.

What is a ques­tion tag?

These are used you want to get answer as either ‘yes’ or ‘no’

Sim­ple Eng­lish sen­tences formed by club­bing assertive and inter­rog­a­tive sentence.

The verb and pro­noun used in the ques­tion tag should be in agreed form with the sub­ject and verb used in assertive sentence.

The struc­ture of ques­tion tag is aux­il­iary verb (do, have, are, can etc) + pro­noun (I, you, he etc) and ques­tion mark symbol.

E.g. Ravi is going to park today, isn’t he?

learn english - Question tags

Learn Eng­lish Lan­guage — Ques­tion Tags

The same sen­tence can also be framed as ‘Ravi is going to park today, isn’t he going to park?’

Only the last part ‘isn’t he?’ is known as ques­tion tag.

The ques­tion tag should be in neg­a­tive form of the sen­tence, if the sen­tence is in pos­i­tive form then ques­tion tag will be in neg­a­tive form and vice versa.

Some Exam­ples:

  1. It is rain­ing out­side, isn’t it? (Neg­a­tive ques­tion tag)
  2. You haven’t taken your break­fast, have you? (Pos­i­tive ques­tion tag)
  3. Joseph and Candy are get­ting mar­ried next Mon­day, are they ?

Note: I + am is a spe­cial case, its ques­tion tag is ‘are you’
E.g. I am watch­ing movie, aren’t you?

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