0

Can you give an account on how often Passive voice of Past Continuous used nowadays.

The room was being cleaned when I arrived.

Their performance was being recorded.

The son was being looked for by his mother.

7
  • 1
    Generally the choice of passive or active voice and verb tense are not connected to each other. We use passive voice when the actor is not known or not important. We used past continuous tense when the action is in the past and continued before or after some point of reference in time. They can be used together whenever both conditions apply. They are not considered obsolete or archaic in any way.
    – The Photon
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 18:53
  • Many writing teachers recommend avoiding passive voice, but they do that because English speakers find it very natural to use the passive voice. Even though it can come across as indirect or wishy-washy in writing.
    – The Photon
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 19:01
  • 2
    Many people who recommend avoiding passives have trouble identifying a passive clause in the first place; it's usually taught rather poorly to native speakers of English. Note that the passive can just as easily be used when we want to emphasize the actor. In Geoffrey Pullum's essay The passive in English, he gives the example "Don't you see? The patient was murdered by his own doctor!" He also has a page online for further reading.
    – user230
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 22:55
  • @snailboat I completely agree, though you have to admit that The son was being looked for by his mother sounds really odd! I'd expect the frantic mother's looking to come first in that sentence. The OP's other two examples sound just fine to me, though!
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 23:26
  • 1
    @WendiKidd Oh, I agree. (Note that this doesn't conflict at all with what I said.) There are probably at least three reasons to avoid the passive in this case: being looked for is awkward, son usually appears after at least one parent is referred to, and it's unlikely that the OP wants to emphasize by his mother.
    – user230
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 23:32

1 Answer 1

2

Generally the choice of passive or active voice and verb tense are not connected to each other. We use passive voice when the actor is not known or not important. Or when we want to emphasize the actor by setting it at the end of the sentence, as in Snailboat's example in comments.

We use past continuous tense when the action is in the past and continued before or after some point of reference in time. Passive voice and past continuous tense can be used together whenever both conditions apply. They are not considered obsolete or archaic in any way.

Some writing teachers recommend avoiding passive voice, but they don't do that because the passive voice is uncommon in English. They recommend being careful about using the passive voice because English speakers find it very natural to use the passive voice. However in writing, some examples of passive voice can come across as indirect or wishy-washy. "The son was being looked for by his mother." would be an example where passive voice is more indirect (and also wordier) than the alternative.

As Snailboat points out in the comments there are also many examples where using the passive voice is good writing. "The room was being cleaned when I arrived" is probably a good use of passive voice because you don't necessarily want to say who was cleaning it, or if you did you might get a clumsy sentence like, "the cleaner was cleaning the room."

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .