Wednesday, November 19, 2008

green line to the commons

No sooner did I begin to focus on passive, and the interesting set of verb constructions that my students come up with daily, than this afternoon, first thing, one of my better students called me over and asked me to explain a green line that was under a perfectly grammatical passive sentence; I couldn't find any grammatical problems with the sentence, and eventually I walked away and on to other pressing business.

Several things are remarkable about the event; I will get the exact sentence as soon as possible, as I had to leave her paper at school where the printer broke down minutes before I had to leave at 5:00, thus causing a certain amount of disorganization. But, I suspect a number of patterns here, one of which is that, as I have learned, grammar-check simply doesn't like passive, even when, given a certain noun and certain verb, passive is the best option. As a line-editor I tend to take the noun and verb given to me, and make the passive correctly, because it is easier for me, wanting to write as few words as possible, to add a "was" or "is" and leave the noun and verb in place. The student, after all, has supplied the noun and verb; why should I change them? Grammar-check, however, doesn't see it that way. Why not rewrite the sentence active? It's usually possible. But it requires rewriting the entire sentence.

What happens, I believe, is that students rewrite the whole sentence, and end up with a misformed but active sentence that grammar-check doesn't mind. This doesn't mean that they started out with a correct sentence; it means that the process of negotiating with the green line ultimately led them to a misformed active sentence that, ultimately, was acceptable to grammar-check.

More about this later. A collection of these "misformed actives" will follow, as soon as possible.



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