Chapter 10 Discourse Function
Active and Passive Voice in Writing
The choice between using the active or passive voice in writing is a matter of style, not correctness. However, most handbooks recommend using active voice, which they describe as more natural, direct, lively, and succinct. The passive voice is can be considered wordy and weak when used incorrectly.
Weak, passive: The skater was slammed into the wall by Maria.
Strong, active: Maria slammed the skater into the wall.
Weak, passive: The book was enjoyed by me because the events of her childhood were described so well by the author.
Strong, active: I enjoyed the book because the author described the events of her childhood so well.
Hints for Identifying the Passive Voice
An active verb may or may not have a direct object, but the passive verb almost never does.
“It is…That” construction (It is clear that… It is noted…)
Use of the verbs To Be, Make, or Have
Passive: Your exits should be made quickly.
Active: Leave quickly.
Endings that turn verbs into abstract nouns: -ion,-ing,-ment:
Passive: When application of force is used, the lid will open.
Active: Apply force to open the lid.
The Discourse Functions of Sentences
Sentences may be classified according to their use in discourse. We recognize four main sentence types:
Declarative sentences are used to convey information or to make statements:
David plays the piano.
I hope you can come tomorrow.
We’ve forgotten the milk.
Declarative sentences are by far the most common type.
Interrogative sentences are used in asking questions:
Is this your book?
Did you receive my message?
Have you found a new job yet?
The examples above are specifically YES/NO INTERROGATIVES because they elicit a response which is either yes or no.
ALTERNATIVE INTERROGATIVES offer two or more alternative responses:
Should I telephone you or send an email?
Do you want tea, coffee, or espresso?
Yes/no interrogatives and alternative interrogatives are introduced by an auxiliary verb.
WH- INTERROGATIVES, on the other hand, are introduced by a wh-word, and they elicit an open-ended response:
Where do you work?
Who won the Cup Final in 1997?
Questions are sometimes tagged onto the end of a declarative sentence:
David plays the piano, doesn’t he?
We’ve forgotten the milk, haven’t we?
There’s a big match tonight, isn’t there?
These are known as TAG QUESTIONS. They consist of a main or auxiliary verb followed by a pronoun or existential there
Imperative sentences are used in issuing orders or directives:
Leave your coat in the hall.
Give me your phone number.
Don’t shut the door.
Tag questions are sometimes added to the end of imperatives:
Leave your coat in the hall, will you?
Write soon, won’t you?
In an imperative sentence, the main verb is in the base form. This is an exception to the general rule that matrix clauses are always finite.
Exclamative sentences are used to make exclamations:
What a stupid man he is!
How wonderful you look!
The four-sentence types exhibit different syntactic forms. It is worth pointing out that there is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between the form of a sentence and its discourse function. For instance, the following sentence has declarative form:
You need some help
But when this is spoken with a rising intonation, it becomes a question:
You need some help?
Conversely, rhetorical questions have the form of an interrogative, but they are really statements:
Who cares? ( = I don’t care)