Is Grammar Necessary? The (Passive) Voice From The Past

42 Frases Tipicas

Is grammar necessary? It’s an old question, and if a glance is taken, quite casually, at the textbooks on the market nowadays, there would be a unanimous verdict: Grammar is necessary.

Our textbooks are full of grammar, our readers are full of grammar. Thus, grammar is necessary. Case closed. Grammar is necessary.

Even the passive voice, it’s necessary, despite those who would try to live without it. I mean, try being born without the passive voice. Which phrase feels more comfortable to you?

1. I was born in (year). – Passive Voice
2. My mother gave birth to me in (year). – Active Voice

Anyway, haven’t we always taught grammar? Yes, we have, and today’s (Passive) Voice from the past is designed to exemplify that grammar has been taught in the past, grammar is being taught today, and grammar will be taught in the future.

The question, it seems, is not so much, “Is Grammar Necessary?”, but rather, “How is grammar being taught?”

What’s my point? Just this: If our students are to be taught grammar, using communicative language teaching (CLT) methodology, then, in English (the target language being learned), then grammar is no longer being taught explicitly, through the use of rules and exercises of the sort that are being used in the exercises below.

Let’s get some input (shall we?) from Mr. C. P. Mason, a grammarian from the past:

English Grammar Exercises
by C. P. MASON, B.A.
Fellow of University College, London
January, 1879
Price: 30 cents

1 Teacher and a Big Class.jpg

“The learner is taken by easy stages from the simplest English work to the most difficult constructions in the language. Beginning with
the simplest elements of a sentence, he learns step by step the
functions of the various Parts of Speech, and of their forms and
combinations, and acquires by degrees the power of analysing and
parsing the most complicated constructions.

In the use of these exercises I strenuously urge upon teachers
patient and unflinching compliance with tlie directions given for
guiding the pupil to a thorough understanding of the functions of
words and forms.

Nothing is more useless and even hurtful than to furnish the learner with any kind of mechanical directions to enable him to tell the Parts of Speech.

If he cannot tell that a word is a verb, an adverb or a preposition by recognizing its meaning and function in the sentence, of what possible use can it be for him to give it a name by the application of some empirical rule relating to its position, or something of the sort?

When in this fashion he has managed to say that “now” is an adverb, or”against” a preposition, he really knows no more than he did before.

He is simply using words without a perception of their meaning.

Nay, the matter is worse than this, for he is deluded into the idea that he knows something, while his fancied knowledge is a mere sham, and this delusion is itself a bar to his acquisition of the only kind of knowledge which could be of any use to him.

If the pupil is too young to master the proper explanation readily, wait till he is older ; if he is too dull, take him patiently over the ground again and again till the difficulties have vanished.

None but learners of abnormal stupidity will hold out against this kind of treatment, and they had better devote such intellect as they have to simpler pursuits.

I’ll wager that far too much of our ordinary school work is the ignorant impatience of teachers to get their pupils “over the ground,” that is to say, through a certain number of pages of some textbook.

A tolerably long and avid experience justifies me in affirming most strongly that slow and careful teaching pays best even at examinations.

The specimens of parsing and analysis that I see yearly in hundreds of instances, show how deplorably time and (not patience, but) impatience have been wasted in going over and over again the same profitless round of mechanical and unintelligent repetition.

It is this that renders school “lessons” wearisome to the teacher, and dreary and repulsive to the pupil.

No matter what the subject may be, learners never find a lesson
dull when they feel that they are really learning something.

Christchurch Road, Streatham Hill,
January, 1879.

Page 184 – 185

XIV. Mutual Relation of the Active and Passive Voices*

Preliminary Lesson.—When an action is described by means of the Passive Voice instead of the Active, the object of the verb in the Active Voice becomes the subject of the Verb in thePassive* (§ 186).

** Beware of the mistake of saying that the subject of the verb in the Active Voice becomes the object of the verb in the Passive Voice. A verb in the Passive Voice has no direct object. It does not cease, however, to be a Transitive Verb. All ordinary passive verbs are transitive. The object of an action need not be expressed by the grammatical object of a verb.**

Exercise 23. Change all the following sentences so as to use passive verbs instead of active verbs.

Thus for ” The dog bit the cat,” put ” The cat was bitten by the dog ” : for ” I am writing a letter ” put ” A letter is being written by me ” :

The cat killed the rat.

John broke the window.

That surprises me.

This will please you.

The men are drinking the beer.

We have received a lette;-.

The boys have eaten the cake.

They had not counted the cost.

The men will have finished the work before night.

The men will be carrying the hay to-morrow.

We were gathering nuts in the wood.

The servant had swept the room.

Exercise 24. Make a dozen sentences containing a transitive verb in the active voice, and then alter them as in the last exercise.

Exercise 25. Change all the following sentences so as to use active verbs instead of passive verbs in the same tense :

The sparrow was caught by the boy. We were overtaken by a storm. A
new house will be built by my brother. The children had been scolded by the nurse. The wine had been drunk by the butler. The door was opened by me. Too much was expected by them. The letter was written by us. Mice are caught by cats.

Exercise 28. Make a dozen sentences containing a transitive verb in the passive voice, and then alter them as in the last exercise.

Exercise 27. Write out the following sentences, and draw one line under those verbs which are in the active voice, and two lines under those which are in the passive voice (§§ 187, 205) :

Arrows are shot by the archers. The archers are shooting arrows. He is running. He is gone. He is spending all the money. The men are come. The town was taken by assault. The troops were being led across the river. The officer was leading the troops across the river. I shall be blamed for this. I shall be travelling all night. We were travelling all day. The wine was being drunk. The men are drinking beer. The gardener has been mowing the lawn. The money will have been spent in vain. We are losing time. Time is being wasted.


This book is highly practical while addressing the theory underpinning academic writing. It is organized into three parts. It is available as a Paperback Book and also on Amazon as a Kindle Ebook.

Part One: “Writing for Scholarly Publication“, takes a historical look at Academic Writing to inform contents for an Academic Writing course.

Part Two, “Helping Preservice Teachers” gives an actual course plan used sucessfully by the author.

Part Three, “The Passive Voice Controversy“, (the subject of this blogpost with a voice from the past) demythifies the active voice / passive voice controversy. This is a must have for teachers and students alike.


About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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