At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard.

JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
(1) At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard.

This sentence is borrowed from THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by OLIVER STRUNK.

In that book, the sentence is used as an example of the passive voice with this active counterpart:
The cock's crow came with dawn.

(2) At dawn, the crowing of a rooster could be heard.
(3) The crowing of a rooster could be heard at dawn .
(4) At dawn could be heard the crowing of a rooster.

Although this lacks context, what do native speakers think about these variations of the original? Are they all possible English, albeit different in style? Or are some of them unnatural or ungrammatical? Or if you had to pick one out of these four options, which one would you go with?
 
  • Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Well (apart from the Americanism of rooster for cock) they all sound familiar to me. And yes, I live in the country and our neighbours have poultry!

    Version (2) would be used in narrative, listing events in the order in which they occur.
    (3) would be used in description, explaining the sorts of thing that happen in the country.
    (4) would be used in poetry or poetic prose; it's less common than the other two.
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    Yes they are all possible constructs. It would be a very poor textbook if it gave examples which were incorrect - I'm not sure why you would even question this.

    I don't have any particular preference, although unlike Keith I don't live in the country and my reaction to this experience would probably be less poetic.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Sentence (4) seems quite awkward. The rest are fine.
    :thumbsup::thumbsup:
    Yes they are all possible constructs. It would be a very poor textbook if it gave examples which were incorrect - I'm not sure why you would even question this.
    The OP is quite correct in questioning this. :thumbsup::thumbsup:

    The Elements of Style is the target of substantial criticism in today's world, despite the esteem to which it was once held.

    Performing a Google search for The Elements of Style criticisms will reward one with a long list of links, including this particularly acerbic one:
    50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice

    (If the head of linguistics and the English language at the University of Edinburgh finds the book to be an anachronism, I suggest the OP is on solid ground to question it. ;))

    We also have at least one existing thread on the subject:
    Book to improve grammar
     
    Last edited:

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    I was perhaps too brief. What I meant was : if you believe it to be a poor textbook, why do you even care about the advice therein? Why not simply consult a textbook you have more faith in? So it puzzles me that someone would ask whether a textbook gave grammatically incorrect examples (as opposed to examples nobody would use) - if they had got to the stage of believing this to be a possibility or even a likelihood, surely they are wasting their time reading the book?
    Sentence 4 is an unusual phrasing, but possible in a literary context, as Keith said. I don't think any of these sentences would be used in casual conversation.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    The subsequent posts tell me that there must have been some miscommunication on my part. (Maybe it was the way the OP was presented.) :oops:

    First and foremost, I did not intend to question the book itself or any example therein. More specifically, example (1) and the "improved" version with the active voice (The cock's crow came with dawn.) are the only example sentences taken from the book. The rest sentences, examples (2) to (4), are of my own making.

    And even example (1) Strunk presented as "a tame sentence" along with this guidance:
    Many a tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is or could be heard.
    If I had ever question the book itself, I was perhaps wondering why the author came up with example (1) as an example of the passive voice over, say, examples (2) to (4).
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It surprises me that Shrunk didn't choose a closer parallel for

    (1) At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard.


    I'd have expected:

    (2') At dawn we could hear the crowing of a rooster .
     
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