Active / Passive sentences

By serendipity, two of my students today stumbled onto a beautiful construction in the English language called the passive/active sentence. This is a sentence of two complete independent clauses, in which the first is in the passive voice and the second is in the active voice. It’s a great construction for explaining legal issues or historical challenges, because the first clause lays out “what ought to be” and the second clause lays out “what is”.

Here are a couple of examples:

1. Spaniards were required by the Laws of the Indies to protect the Indian population of New Spain, but the conquistadors and their successors often butchered the natives.

2. Indians were supposed to be treated fairly under Spanish law, but the encomenderos used Indians as slave labor and hunting targets.

I admit, I was not great about reading homework at my old job in boarding school. Faced with a choice between deciphering bad handwriting and collapsing on my couch to read a book of my own choosing, I took the book far more often than was any help to my students. To use the Active/Passive Sentence structure, “homework was supposed to be corrected, but I chose to read instead.”

And I feel guilt about that. Really I do.

But I’ve watched my new students’ writing blossom this past month. Their work, particularly that of the seventh grade, has blossomed and expanded in all sorts of interesting and positive ways. I am really impressed at how they respond to direction. It’s gotten to the point where I have to encourage them to write less, or to edit extraneous words from their work.

And now I get to teach them a new format! One they found for themselves!

One comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.