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  #1  
Old 07 October 2014, 02:21 AM
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Read This! Science Says You Can Split Infinitives and Use the Passive Voice

In his new book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, Steven Pinker basically outdoes Strunk and White. The celebrated Harvard cognitive scientist and psycholinguist explains how to write in clear, "classic" prose that shares valuable information with clarity but never condescension. And he tells us why so many of the tut-tutting grammar "rules" that we all think we're supposed to follow don't split infinitives, don't use the passive voice, don't end a sentence with a preposition are just nonsense.

http://www.motherjones.com/environme...-grammar-rules
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Old 07 October 2014, 02:34 AM
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Linguists have been saying this sort of thing for years, but I'm glad to see the information in a mainstream format. Grammarians are not going to agree, but it's not easy to adjust when someone contradicts the rules you believe about your own language.
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Old 07 October 2014, 03:09 PM
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I disagree that thoughtful grammarians are going to disagree. There's been general agreement for years among non-pedants that there is nothing wrong with splitting infinitives, provided you're using a language in which they are two words in the first place.

The "rules" against the passive voice have more to do with keeping the reader interested than the grammar of the thing.

Seaboe
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Old 07 October 2014, 05:18 PM
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I wasn't referring to the particular rules he is addressing, but rather his general attitude towards language, that it is in constant flux, and the rules should be about what is effective, not what is prescribed.

But I see your point, that thoughtful grammarians understand that as well as linguists.
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Old 07 October 2014, 06:10 PM
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The rule about passive is more about clarity than grammar.

A letter was sent to you. Who sent this letter?
Mr Harris of our collection department sent you a letter... oh! Now I see..



It's something I have to deal with daily at my job. subject matter experts submit responses, and they forget that a lot people's brains shut down when the information isn't readily understandable.
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Old 07 October 2014, 06:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alarm View Post
The rule about passive is more about clarity than grammar.
I work at a well-known medical center where the passive voice is used freely and often, both to create the sense (illusion, really) of objectivity toward the topic and (IMHO) to dodge responsibility. "It was decided that..." is a lot harder to pin on any one person than "Suchandso decided". Political machinations ahoy!
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Old 07 October 2014, 07:04 PM
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You can count on me to happily start splitting infinitives, and the passive voice will definitely be used more often, but I stand by the rule that a preposition is the wrong thing to end a sentence with.
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Old 07 October 2014, 07:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by she-geek View Post
I work at a well-known medical center where the passive voice is used freely and often, both to create the sense (illusion, really) of objectivity toward the topic and (IMHO) to dodge responsibility. "It was decided that..." is a lot harder to pin on any one person than "Suchandso decided". Political machinations ahoy!
That`s exactly why we are told to avoid it.

People already accuse government workers of trying to avoir responsibility, so in writing response we are supposed to strive for directness... while still somehow refraining from telling people that they have the reading comprehension of a child.

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Old 07 October 2014, 07:22 PM
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Bravo, chillas.

LPP, if this is a topic that interests you, have you discovered David Crystal? In particular, The Stories of English?

Seaboe
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Old 07 October 2014, 07:47 PM
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There is nothing wrong with passive voice. It has uses that add to clarity and interest rather than detract from it. It's a tool, which, in the hands of a skillful and thoughtful writer, can effectively convey the relevant information.

E.g., if you are telling the story of a criminal and his crime, then saying, "The next day, he was arrested," keeps the focus on the relevant person. If you say, "the next day, a police officer arrested him," then you've now introduced another character, which is fine if you want to do that, but if there's nothing to say about the officer, then you might as well not.
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Old 07 October 2014, 08:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alarm View Post
That`s exactly why we are told to avoid it.

People already accuse government workers of trying to avoir responsibility, so in writing response we are supposed to strive for directness... while still somehow refraining from telling people that they have the reading comprehension of a child.

You don't have to tell the particular reader they have the reading comprehension of a child. Just tell them you write like a Dick-and-Jane book for all the other dimwits out there.
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Old 07 October 2014, 08:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker View Post
LPP, if this is a topic that interests you, have you discovered David Crystal? In particular, The Stories of English?
I am very interested, linguistics is my field, but I haven't read Crystal. I'll check him out, thank you!
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Old 07 October 2014, 08:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alarm View Post
The rule about passive is more about clarity than grammar.

A letter was sent to you. Who sent this letter?
Mr Harris of our collection department sent you a letter... oh! Now I see..



It's something I have to deal with daily at my job. subject matter experts submit responses, and they forget that a lot people's brains shut down when the information isn't readily understandable.
We have an informal rule about excessive use of "I" in writing correspondence. Because of this, we occasionally get convoluted messages such as:

It was decided to not participate in the event. Who decided? Who is not participating?
Rather than:

I am not going to participate in the event.
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Old 07 October 2014, 08:35 PM
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I watched a webcast in the summer where a teacher was talking to her kids about language . She was specifically talking about words such as Skype, Twitter, Tweet, Facebook, Facebooked, texted, Facetimed, Instagrammed, etc. They all agreed that it was essentially a new language and the assignment was to write a dictionary for this new language as a group effort. There were various steps to it but that was the main idea.
I thought that was an excellent assignment.
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Old 07 October 2014, 10:09 PM
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It would have been an even better assignment to talk about the astounding ability of an existing language to take on an infinite number of new names, words, and concepts, but she was close, anyway.
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Old 08 October 2014, 12:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker View Post
There's been general agreement for years among non-pedants that there is nothing wrong with splitting infinitives, provided you're using a language in which they are two words in the first place.
There's the rub: It's pretty much impossible to split an infinitive in English, because our infinitives are single words. Despite what most people think, the particle "to" isn't really part of the infinitive; it's merely a marker indicating that the following verb is in its infinitive form. One can find a number of constructions in English in which infinitive forms are used without the word "to" preceding the verb.
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Old 08 October 2014, 01:18 AM
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Henry Fowler, in his Dictionary of Modern English Usage (written in 1926) said that authors should keep little silver axes for the sole purpose of splitting infinitives. Fowler was quite conservative about language, so if he's approving of it, there's no reason to object to it. The only warning any language scholar has made about it in the past 60 years is not to split them awkwardly.

Any writer will tell you that the passive voice is a useful tool in the writing toolkit. The warning was for using it to obscure guilt ("Mistakes were made") and the fact that the active voice is more direct and usually stronger -- but there are times when you don't want to be direct.

The other big bugaboo of English "experts" -- ending a sentence with a preposition -- has some validity (*He is talking to.). However, it's very hard to find any examples of this. The "examples" given are all where there is no preposition at the end of a sentence, but rather the particle of a verb. There are many two- and three-word verbs in English (e.g., to put, to put up, to put up with) whose meanings change due to the particles added. Nearly all examples of this involve multiple word verbs.
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Old 08 October 2014, 01:35 AM
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Even using passive voice to obscure guilt is useful and not inherently bad or deceptive. For example, if I'm working with someone who made a mistake, and I need to refer to it, but don't want to seem to be calling them out, I might use passive voice.
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Old 08 October 2014, 02:24 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Pink Pill View Post
It would have been an even better assignment to talk about the astounding ability of an existing language to take on an infinite number of new names, words, and concepts, but she was close, anyway.
I don't see how that would lend itself to student inquiry, and that's what we're focusing on right now here. The students were given a clear objective of what they were doing and the teacher was established as the "guide on the side" after that first discussion, while the students proceeded on the project, working as a group.
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Old 08 October 2014, 06:25 AM
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I do agree with you that it's great that she got her students excited about language, but I disagree if you're saying that student interest is more important than actually teaching correct information. Maybe I misunderstood you, though, when you said, "they all agreed it was essentially a new language." Did you mean they agreed those were new words? Because they're nothing like a new language. Those are new names for new technologies, just like "pen" or "telephone" were once new words.

The kids still could have made a mini dictionary with all the words that have come into existence recently because of the Internet, and a good many of those terms are being used in multiple languages. Maybe that wouldn't have been as exciting, but unless I'm misunderstanding your repeated used of the term "new language," at least she would have been teaching valid information. It's pointless to get students all excited about concepts that aren't true.

Last edited by Little Pink Pill; 08 October 2014 at 06:33 AM.
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