A model was developed of family fertility decisions

Discussion in 'English Only' started by kvvic, Jan 12, 2008.

  1. kvvic Senior Member

    Ukraine
    Russian, Ukrainian
    Dear all,

    Reading scientific papers of English scientists, I sometimes come across such phrases like the one in the subject, where the passive verb separates the noun from the prepositional phrase that modifies it. What do you think of such phrasing, is it acceptable or should it be avoided?
     
  2. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    It really depends on the subject matter. As you have noticed, the passive is used more freely in formal, scientific sentences. If that's what you are writing then fine (although even then you wouldn't want to do it too much) but in general I'd suggest that you use them sparingly but a passive here and there is still fine.
     
  3. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I don't think the question was about the passive voice per se, but about the position of the passive verb vis-à-vis the subject and a prepositional phrase modifying it. That is, Kvvic is wondering whether it wouldn't be better to say "A model of family fertility decisions was developed."

    I think it's a good question. I would say that the standard or default word order is subject-prepositional phrase-verb, but sometimes it's preferable to put the verb before the prepositional phrase, particularly if the latter is very long. For example, you don't really want to say "An explanation of the reasons behind the governor's unexpected decision to retire after only two months in office was given." It is far more preferable to use "An explanation was given of the reasons behind...".
     
  4. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    Oh yes - rereading it I agree with you - and with your comments.
     
  5. kvvic Senior Member

    Ukraine
    Russian, Ukrainian
    Yes, you're right, Elroy. That's what I meant to ask.

    And what about the sentence:

    An approach has been developed to determining criteria of limit states in metallic materials that occur under ... conditions.

    Does it sound natural?
    I'm trying to find out in which cases I can apply this pattern.
     
  6. Rana_pipiens

    Rana_pipiens Senior Member

    Salt Lake City, Utah
    USA / English
    Regarding prepositional phrase(s) modifying the subject but following the verb, I agree with Elroy -- it depends on the length. I regularly swap around short passive verbs and long chains of prepositional phrases (attempting) to make sentences more intelligible.

    In my experience, "more freely" is an understatement. Far from "even then you wouldn't want to do it," it is heavily encouraged in formal scientific writing. Heaven forfend one should ever use the words "I" or "we"; one gets the impression the walls of academia would crumble.

    Even when the active voice would be entirely impersonal, the passive gets used. (Oh dear. Even thinking about scientific writing I slide into passive voice. Let's make that, "researchers use the passive.") Sometimes when I'm proofreading manuscripts, I change verbs, "as the temperature increased" instead of "as the temperature was increased" -- my little blow against the establishment:p.

    The engineers I work around get so used to passive that, even when trying to write a chatty newsletter article, they don't seem able to switch, and "my research group did a study" comes out "a study was performed." :eek:
     
  7. kvvic Senior Member

    Ukraine
    Russian, Ukrainian
    Well, I'm a translator and dealing mostly with scientific writing. I translate papers, reports, presentations, etc. from Russian into English. And every single abstract is written like this (if literally translated):

    Considered is the effect of one phenomenon on the other taking into account different conditions and factors (usually a long list).

    or

    Studied was the reason why ... (followed by a long clause).

    From the standpoint of grammar, I should write them like this:

    The effect of one phenomenon on the other taking into account different conditions and factors (usually a long list) is considered.
    The reason why ... (followed by a long clause) was studied.

    But it seems clumsy to me, isn't it?
    So I'm trying to find an alternative. Like in the above example with " ..approach.."
     
  8. RoseLilly

    RoseLilly Banned

    USA English
    Another thing to consider: Very often, NEW information is placed in the object position or at the end of the sentence; OLD information occupies the subject position or the beginning of the sentence.

    Your sentence:

    An approach has been developed to determining criteria of limit states in metallic materials that occur ...


    keeps to this pattern. It sounds fine to me for use in scientific writing.
     
  9. kvvic Senior Member

    Ukraine
    Russian, Ukrainian
    Thanks a lot to all of you for your help.

    As I understand, this pattern is acceptable if used sparingly.
    One more question, does the same principle apply to a similar case where the passive verb separates the noun from a long restrictive clause:

    An approach has been developed that allows determining criteria of limit states in metallic materials occuring ...
     
  10. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Don't let the word "that" mislead you. The clause is not restrictive in that sentence. It would be restrictive if you had already described the approach and were now referring back to it. If that were the case, I would say that you should not put the verb before the clause, as the sentence would sound funny.

    The approach that was developed by Dr. Smith was modified. :tick:
    The approach was modified that was developed by Dr. Smith. :confused:

    If your restrictive clause is particularly long, I'm afraid you'll just have to find a way to reword the sentence.
     
  11. kvvic Senior Member

    Ukraine
    Russian, Ukrainian
    I see, I should have written
    An approach has been developed, which allows...
    Thanks again, Elroy
     
  12. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Ok, so you meant "non-restrictive." :p
    I would not recommend this structure.

    You could say, "An approach has been developed, one that allows...".
     

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