Sunday, April 27, 2014


The passive voice and the irksome Agent

From the diary of an E.F.L. teacher

I dedicate this paper to the student who asked a curious question about the passive voice totally alien in our high schools today. While the majority of this generation of digitally oriented students still struggle to understand what the passive voice is, and why we should use it, this student goes beyond the simple usual questions the learners frequently ask. She crosses the limits of understanding this voice to raise a tough issue that only grammarians are concerned with.

The question
 “Teacher, in a passive voice construction, shall we always use the “by + agent” phrase whenever the doer or the agent is known or identified?

         At first, I got speechlessly surprised because I didn’t expect this kind of question from a hard working student like her. I am sure she knew all about the rules related to the use of the phrase “by + agent” in a passive voice construction. If anyone else had enquired about this issue, it would have been quite normal because luckily some students still ask questions. There’s surely something else behind that question.

         In general, a matter like this is very so often raised by the learners, in class and on the Internet. Apparently, it looked so common a query that its answer would unthinkably be, ........