are being threatened by deforestation / deforestation threatens [passive vs active]

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The Lord of Gluttony

Senior Member
Turkish
Greetings, :)

I've come across a SAT practice question as follows:

...
All of the following sentence is underlined; beneath the sentence are five ways of phrasing the underlined material. Select the option that produces the best sentence.
The remaining rain forests are being threatened by deforestation, hydroelectric dams, and oil extraction.

A. The remaining rain forests are being threatened by deforestation, hydroelectric dams, and oil extraction. :cross:
B. The remaining rain forests are being threatened by deforestation, hydroelectric dams, and by oil extraction. :cross:
C. The remaining rain forests, threatened by deforestation, hydroelectric dams, and oil extraction. :cross:
D. Deforestation, hydroelectric dams, and oil extraction threatens the remaining forests. :cross:
E. Deforestation, hydroelectric dams, and oil extraction threaten the remaining rain forests. :tick:

True Choice: E
Source: A question from a software called "SAT UP"
...

The choices A and E are almost same. The only difference is E is in active voice, and A is in passive voice. But why should the one in active voice be true? The program's answer section says the reason is E's being less word than A.
But why does the passive voice always have to be regarded as "wordy"? A and E have the exactly same meaning, do they not?

Many thanks :)
 
Last edited:
  • The passive voice, here, puts the focus on the forests. One *might* want to do that. A. is not incorrect.

    But you were asked for the 'best' sentence, and there is a general presumption, among teachers and some writers that the active is somewhat preferable in most situations. In any case it's simpler ("less wordY"), and, here, maybe "better."

    These issues have been discussed in thousands of places, I'm sure.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    You are being asked to choose the best sentence. The meaning of "best" is not defined. The passive form is wordy simply because it contains more words. If "best" means "using the fewest words to convey the intended meaning" then E is certainly the best. The choice of the passive voice is a matter of style and personal preference. Depending on the context, a writer may prefer to use the passive, even though it is wordier.

    For example. if there has been a discussion of how many forests there were and how few there are now, it might well be preferable to move from one idea to the next starting the change of focus by writing "The remaining rain forests ..."

    In other words this is a wordy way of saying that there is nothing wrong with A and neither A nor E could be described as "best" without first defining "best".

    (It also seems unfair to ask which is the best sentence when one of them isn't a sentence ...)
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    The remaining rain forests are being threatened by deforestation, hydroelectric dams, and oil extraction.

    A. The remaining rain forests are being threatened by deforestation, hydroelectric dams, and oil extraction.
    It's also a rather weird question when one of the options is exactly the same as the 'source' sentence:cool:
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    Two of the fundamental dogmas of American writing style are:

    - always be as concise as possible
    - always avoid the passive voice

    These are both taught in high school English, mostly through an odd little book called The Elements of Style (which is somewhat fetishized in the US). So the SAT wants you to recognize that both sentences A and E are grammatically correct, and then apply the advice of your English teacher about which is better - which should tell you that E is a much better sentence than A.

    (Remember, the SAT follows the biases and ideology of the culture that produces it, whether or not those biases and ideologies are based in fact.)
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Having read the question and previous answers I suspect careless proofreading on the part of the examiners. I believe that option A is included by mistake, especially as it is identical to the underlined sentence.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    Having read the question and previous answers I suspect careless proofreading on the part of the examiners. I believe that option A is included by mistake, especially as it is identical to the underlined sentence.
    I think that's actually intentional. I believe the exercise is to either leave the sentence as-is, or to revise it to one of the other options. Now, I'm not up on the current form of the SAT, but that format would make sense to me.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think that's actually intentional. I believe the exercise is to either leave the sentence as-is, or to revise it to one of the other options. Now, I'm not up on the current form of the SAT, but that format would make sense to me.
    I'll support my idea by pointing out that B and C are both passive and that only one is grammatically possible. Both D and E are active and, again, only one is grammatically correct.

    I suppose I'm biased against the examiners because I have an aversion to ill-defined multiple-choice questions in general. This one is nonsense in my opinion. :)
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I agree that choice A, which is identical with the original, was included by mistake. You are asked to pick the best rephrasing; that is clearly E.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    It is incredibly irritating when the OP edits his post after there are replies to it. It is also very rude to the forum members who have replied. Please do not do that. If you want to add something, add a new post.
     

    The Lord of Gluttony

    Senior Member
    Turkish
    It is incredibly irritating when the OP edits his post after there are replies to it. It is also very rude to the forum members who have replied. Please do not do that. If you want to add something, add a new post.
    I'm very sorry. I beg your pardon. I don't want to be rude. I hope you don't think I was intentionally being rude. I just wanted to correct the question. No one likes me in this world :(

    The choice A and the first, and original, sentence are identical. It was not a mistake.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    If you look at the "Sentence Improving" section of the SAT (which you can find on the College Board website here), you will find that in every question option A is identical to the sentence as written. This is not a poorly-edited question.

    According to the dogmas of American style, particularly the style rules which are taught in high school curricula, passive voice sentences are always to be avoided, and are often described as "wordy." This is a rule peculiar to American English, and even more specifically peculiar to The Elements of Style (which is often used as a high school English coursebook).

    If you want to do well on the SAT, you would do well to memorize this rule and apply it in the context of the exam - whether or not you agree with it.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    If you look at the "Sentence Improving" section of the SAT (which you can find on the College Board website here), you will find that in every question option A is identical to the sentence as written. This is not a poorly-edited question.

    According to the dogmas of American style, particularly the style rules which are taught in high school curricula, passive voice sentences are always to be avoided, and are often described as "wordy." This is a rule peculiar to American English, and even more specifically peculiar to The Elements of Style (which is often used as a high school English coursebook).

    If you want to do well on the SAT, you would do well to memorize this rule and apply it in the context of the exam - whether or not you agree with it.
    Okay :):thumbsup:
     
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