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tracyt1800
January 17th, 2006, 02:16 PM
I read through this (http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=9156) thread on passive voice but I didn't get my questions answered. My sister asked me to read a story she wrote. She uses uses a lot of had's, had been's, could's etc. Is this the passive voice? Or some other grammatical issue that should be corrected? Or is it OK? It reads strangely to me and, if it's incorrect style, I'd like to be able to tell her exactly what is going on.

I've included a sample paragraph below:


It had not been necessary for him to be there. He could access the server from his home. He had only wanted a little human contact with the people in his office. Especially Vicki. He could not quench the desire to see to her any more than he could explain how he had let her into his heart. It had all been so fast and now he could not block her from his thoughts.

Thanks,
Tracy

Yobmod
January 17th, 2006, 03:25 PM
I agree it reads strangely in some parts, but i don't think its the passive voice. Passive voice usually means the subject isn't defined:

He could access the server from his home. - active, conditional
The server could be accessed from his home - passive, conditional

The second sentence leaves you wondering 'by whom', so is passive.
They are conditional because the 'could' implies that certain conditions need to be met ie. IF he were at home...


It's difficult to tell out of context, but i think its only the first sentence from the example paragraph that's 'wrong,' as its written in the pluperfect (past definite) tense instead of the simple past (past continuous). If it was:

It wasn't neccesary for him to be there. He could access the server from his home. He had only ....

'wasn't' tells us he needn't have been there in the past, nor now. The rest makes sense as the pluperfect tense is used to describe events happening at a definite time in the past:

He had only wanted a little human contact with the people in his office.

is fine, as 'when he was at home previously' is implied.

Dawnstorm
January 17th, 2006, 03:39 PM
It had not been necessary for him to be there. He could access the server from his home. He had only wanted a little human contact with the people in his office. Especially Vicki. He could not quench the desire to see to her any more than he could explain how he had let her into his heart. It had all been so fast and now he could not block her from his thoughts.

This has nothing to do with the passive voice. It's the past perfect tense; i.e. the tense you use when you speak of things that happened before the narrated time:

I sat at my desk and wrote a story about how I had once found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. A leprechaun had guarded it.

Too much narration in past perfect is considered bad style; the suggestion is to use flashbacks instead. However, sometimes you might just want to summarise for a paragraph or two, and then past perfect should be adequate. (Note that not using it is a breach of grammar, if you're not using flashbacks or similar techniques).

I cannot really judge your sisters use of past perfect from this paragraph alone, as the appropriateness of the tense is dependant on context.

The "could"-sentences, though, are consistently in simple past tense. This is grammatically wrong. "could access" --> "could have accessed"...

But putting all the "could"-sentences into the proper tense is problematic, too:

"It had all been so fast and now he could not block her from his thoughts."

This should be "and now he could not have blocked her...", but that's problematic because you have a composite sentence, here, that in a simple past section would have required this structure: past perfect, simple past. However, since the English language does not have a past past perfect, and since this is a past perfect section, you'd have to use: past perfect, past perfect. (The "now" would be problematic, though; since in a past perfect section everything is in the past; I'd expect a "by then" or something.)

From this section alone, I'd say the paragraph would work better in simple past:


It was not necessary for him to be here. He could access the server from his home. He only wanted a little human contact with the people in his office. Especially Vicki. He could not quench the desire to see to her any more than he could explain how he had let her into his heart. It had all been so fast and now he could not block her from his thoughts.

Notice, how two instances of past perfect remain.

The problem is, though, that in the narrative context this could be grammatically wrong. For this to work he'd have to be working in the office, now. If he's just going home in a taxi and is triggered down a reverie, past simple would be grammatically inadequate (and the style of the section doesn't really support a flashback). Some writers choose style over grammar here, and go with past simple, anyway.

***

Edit: Yobmod's post wasn't here when I typed this up. He's got a point about "had only wanted"; that past perfect could remain, too. I hadn't thought of that. But I do think, if you go that route, it should also be: "could have accessed". :)

Yobmod
January 17th, 2006, 03:43 PM
"It had all been so fast and now he could not block her from his thoughts."


This should be "and now he could not have blocked her...", but that's problematic because you have a composite sentence, here, that in a simple past section would have required this structure: past perfect, simple past. However, since the English language does not have a past past perfect, and since this is a past perfect section, you'd have to use: past perfect, past perfect. (The "now" would be problematic, though; since in a past perfect section everything is in the past; I'd expect a "by then" or something.)

I don't think the could clause is the past tense in this case. Its present conditional tense.

He can not block - present
He could not block - present conditional
He could not have blocked - past

compare:

I had been run over and could not now walk - pluperfect, present conditional
I had been run over and could not have walked - pluperfect, pluperfect

Dawnstorm
January 17th, 2006, 03:52 PM
I don't think the could clause is the past tense in this case. Its present conditional tense.

He can not block - present
He could not block - present conditional
He could not have blocked - past conditional

True. I'm being lazy.

***

Present tense:

It isn't necessary for him to be here. He could access...

Past tense:

It wasn't necessary for him to be here. He could have accessed...

Past perfect tense:

It hadn't been necessary for him to be here. He could have accessed...

***

My mistake was to read "could" as the past tense of "can" (as in "he couldn't see her"). Getting sloppy. :o

Yobmod
January 17th, 2006, 04:00 PM
Edit: Yobmod's post wasn't here when I typed this up. He's got a point about "had only wanted"; that past perfect could remain, too. I hadn't thought of that. But I do think, if you go that route, it should also be: "could have accessed".

This is the same thing again. I read it as present conditional 'He could access' = 'he can access' if some requirement is met (ie. being at home) instead of could have accessed in the past.

I think either would be right, but clearly the mixing of the tenses causes confusion to the reader. Much easier if it was all writen in the pluperfect as you suggested (or all in the simple past).

btw, i'm guessing pluperfect = past perfect, in English English?

tracyt1800
January 17th, 2006, 04:08 PM
Wow ... thanks for all the detailed info. I will go back and re-read it and see what I can come up with. I see what you both mean about being difficult to be sure with the paragraph out of context. I would post more, but I did not want to upset her by posting her work on the internet. However, I figured a single paragraph would not bother her too much.

I will check through her work. It seems like there are a lot of the pluperfect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluperfect) sentences in her work. I don't think they are all flashbacks or events that occurred prior to the current time of the narration.

Thanks!
Tracy

Dawnstorm
January 17th, 2006, 04:14 PM
compare:

I had been run over and could not now walk - pluperfect, present conditional
I had been run over and could not have walked - pluperfect, pluperfect

Argh, stop confusing me. ;)

I had been run over and could not now walk - pluperfect, past tense ("can" is a full verb, here, expressing ability)

I had been run over and could not have walked - pluperfect, past conditional

I had been run over and had been unable (had not been able) to walk - pluperfect, pluperfect

"could" does not exist in the pluperfect tense.

Rocket Sheep
January 17th, 2006, 04:18 PM
It's perfectly acceptable when you're writing in past tense and need to speak of a time prior to what is happening that you set up the time using your "hads" and "haves" for a sentence or two and then slip back into ordinary past tense.

You do this because readers, once they have the time frame in their mind, won't notice, because it sounds nicer, because eventually a character will "had had". Have you ever read a book which put two hads together as in: "George had had enough"?

PS. I think they're making up the "pluperfect" sounds like a Sesame St monster! :p

Yobmod
January 17th, 2006, 04:19 PM
btw, i'm guessing pluperfect = past perfect, in English English?

I was thinking about this and remembered something. I was taught 4 past tenses:

Simple past - He ate - He was
perfect past - He has eaten - He has been
Pluperfect - He had eaten - He had been
imperfect - He was eating - He was (being)

Imperfect implies that the action continues into the present but is interupted, but can be interchangable with the simple past.

So i thought the first sentence should be Imperfect, and the second sentence remain in the present.

Whereas Dawnstorm read it as though the first sentence was in the pluperfect (as it originally was), therefore the second sentence has to be changed to the past too.

So we're both right. :) It really depends on the context of the paragraph tho. (Except about the getting run over sentence i made up, where i managed to confuse myself completely).