Issue For October 3, 2006
Writing Question of the Week
This is usually a question submitted by an OWL user to the OWL Tutors. If you have a question you need answered quickly, ask one of our OWL Tutors or call the Writing Lab's Grammar Hotline at 765-494-3723. And remember, both services are free for everyone!
So since when is "she is using" a passive construction?
A number of readers wrote in to correct a response in the OWL Help Nest section from the September 26 issue. The Purdue OWL News did not intend to run this problematic answer and apologizes for any confusion. At issue was the responder's labeling of "is using" as a passive verb (actually voice or construction), which, as our readers have pointed out, is incorrect.
The passive voice appears in any sentence where the subject isn't doing the action of the verb. "Susan is using the computer" is an active construction in the present progressive tense (describing an action that is occurring). "The computer is being used by Susan" is the passive voice (not tense OR verb).
Many writing teachers advise students to avoid the passive voice, because it allows for the real subject of a sentence to disappear: "The computer is being used." However, the passive voice does have its uses, as in the sentence "All brands of fresh, bagged spinach are being recalled." In that sentence, perhaps in the context of a news story, it's the spinach that's important--not the company or government doing the recalling.
Regarding the present progressive tense, though: a construction like "is using" is quite different from "uses": "is using," again, indicates an action currently occurring. Consider the sentence, "Don't disturb him, he is sleeping" versus "Don't disturb him, he sleeps." In the first instance, we logically are told not to disturbing a sleeping person; in the second, we are told not to disturb a person because he is known to sleep. We'd better not disturb anybody!
Where "is" becomes a problem is not in progressive constructions, but often in combination with adjectives or nouns, at the expense of a perfectly good verb: "The law is applicable to all citizens" would be much better written as "The law applies to all citizens." Or, "The students are dependant on financial aid" could be rewritten "The students depend on financial aid." In such cases, we say that "is" is a weak verb, but it's still not a passive construction.
--Karl Stolley, OWL News Editor
The OWL Help Nest
Each week we publish Purdue OWL News readers' requests for advice or information and the responses from other Purdue OWL News readers.
I have conducted interviews with local people, but I have to write the report in English. I would like to know how to quote translated phrases in my text.--David, San Josť, Costa Rica
Quotes generally mean that you are conveying the exact words spoken or written by a person. Translated material is never exactly the same as the original so I would recommend that you avoid quotes if possilbe. For example, write:
John said that his life is good.
John said, "Life is good."
If for some reason you feel direct quotes are necessary due to the requirements of your report, include some explanation or notation to indicate that the words have been translated and by whom.--Cathy Crittenden, UAB
How do you use the "th" when referencing numbers? For example, would you write "October 25th is the day we will meet," "October 25 is the day we will meet," "the 25th of the month is the day we meet"?--Jan, Fort Myers Florida
This is according to the U.S. Goverment Printing Office Style Manual: October 25 is when we meet. October 25, 2006 is when we meet. We meet on the 25th day of October 2006. "Th" or "nd" or "st" follows a date only if it precedes the month, except in dates on business letters, e.g., 25 October 2006. You didn't ask, but if you include the year, no comma is used. If the year follows the month and date, the year is set off by commas.--Dixie Wood, Houston, Texas
Next Week's Questions
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What's Happening on the OWL at Purdue
- OWL Eye On...New Poetry Resources. Content revision and expansion continues on the OWL. New this week are two resources on Pattern and Variation in Poetry: Aural at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/570/01/ and Visual at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/569/01/. See also Image in Poetry at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/617/01/
- OWL Eye On...Exploding OWL Usage. In September of 2005, the OWL served users 3,853,566 individual pages; compare that to September 2006, when the OWL served 7,110,599 pages! That's almost a doubling of our usage for the same period a year ago. Thank you all for keeping OWL popular, and do let us know of any feedback you have to improve the site; there are links for that on all pages of the OWL at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/.
What's Happening in the Writing Lab
- OWL Eye On...Joy's Big Trip. Joy Santee, a graduate tutor in the Writing Lab, was featured in the fall issue of the Purdue Liberal Arts magazine for her participation in the TransAm bike trip. Joy spent the summer riding her bike across the US, from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Pacific.
- OWL Eye On...Congratulations, Tammy! Tammy Conard-Salvo, Associate Director, received an IWCA Research Grant for her project titled "Beyond Disabilities: Text-to-Speech Software in the Writing Center."
- OWL Eye On...ESL Conversation Groups. Conversation groups are held daily in the Writing Lab to help international students improve their English speaking skills. Learn more at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/writinglab/topic/conversationgroups/. The Fall 2006 ESL Conversation group schedule is:
- Mondays, 9:30-10:30
- Tuesdays, 10:30-11:30
- Wednesdays, 3:00-4:00
- Thursdays, 2:00-3:00
- Fridays, 11:30-12:30
- OWL Eye On...Writing Lab Fall Hours and Locations. The Writing Lab's Fall 2006 hours of operation for Heavilon Hall are Monday through Thursday, 9:00-6:00 and Friday, 9:00-1:00. Writing consultants will be available in the Hicks Undergraduate Library/DLC on Monday from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm and in Meredith Hall on Wednesday from 7:00-10:00 pm.
This week's OWL News was edited by Karl Stolley, Purdue OWL Webmaster.