Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Passive Voice: A Sentence Diagramming Case Study

When we don't know "who done it," and the verbs "to be" plus a past participle follow the subject, it may just be a passive voice sentence.
Passive Voice Sentences are Diagrammed as Written

A sentence written in the passive voice is diagrammed like any other sentence.  The trick is knowing when you've diagrammed a passive voice sentence.

Let's use a case study to take a closer look at passive voice sentences: The Case of the Muddy Footprints.

The Case of the Muddy Footprints

Once upon a time, Amy Lynn came home to discover that all of the floors in her house were covered in muddy footprints!  She immediately called her detective friend, Monsieur Passive, to help her figure out who had left the footprints.  

"It's a mystery!" she cried to Monsieur Passive. "Muddy footprints were left throughout the house."
"I am on ze case!" he replied.

He began his investigation by diagramming the case as it appeared to be.  "Footprints," was his main subject, and "were left" was his main verb.  "Muddy," and the prepositional phrase "throughout the house," were merely words to add interest. He dismissed them immediately and focused on his subject and the verbs that followed the subject.

The detective inspects the subject of this passive voice sentence.
Passive voice sentences leave readers asking, "Who done it?"

The Subject

First, he studied his main subject, "Footprints."  He knew that the footprints couldn't have left themselves.  They seemed to be more of an object than a subject.  

"I'm innocent!" cried the footprints.
"Oui," replied Monsieur Passive.  "I believe you."

The detective inspects the verb in the sentence, "were left."
Pay close attention to the verb when determining if a sentence is in the passive voice.

The Verb

Monsieur Passive turned his attention to the verb, a team made up of the to be verb, "were," and his past participle partner, "left."  

"Why were you following ze footprints?" asked Monsieur Passive.  "Why are you hiding the real culprit?  Help me solve ze crime!"
The verbs looked at one another, and the helpful verb, "were," spoke first: "It was the plumber."

When a sentence is in the passive voice, we can only guess who the "do-er" of the action might be.

The Deduction

"I deduce," said Monsieur Passive calmly, "zat ze real culprit is none other zan ze . . . "
"Plumber!" cried the verbs.
"Mais no!" finished Monsieur Passive.  "You cannot blame ze plumber.  He is nowhere in ze sentence.  Zat would simply be making somezing up."

"Who was it, then?" asked Amy Lynn.
"You are a victim of ze passive voice," said Monsieur Passive.  "Let me explain."

  • "First, zere is ze subject, which simply seems like an object.  We know ze footprints could not have left zemselves."
  • "Zen, following ze subject, zere is the verb team made up of a to be verb and a past participle."
  • "I deduce, it is clearly a passive voice sentence." 

"But who left the footprints?" asked Amy Lynn.
"We do not know," answered Monsieur Passive.  "Sadly, zat is ze case wiz ze passive voice.  Sometimes, we are not meant to know.  Sometimes, we cannot know.  Zis time, we cannot know."

Monsieur Passive walked away from the case with his head bowed.  Yet again, knowing "who done it" had been taken away from him by the passive voice.  

"Next time, passive voice, next time," he muttered as he disappeared from under the halo of the street lamp.

Somewhere in the distance a lone dog howled, "The plumber left muddy footprints throughout the house, and you cannot prove it.  The plumber left muddy footprints throughout the house."

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