(passive voice) “The Strategy sets out the direction to be taken”

bertiebassett

New Member
English - Ireland
Hi there,

I'm currently completing an assignment which relates to English and I'm having some problems understanding the usage of passive voice.

One of the questions I am having problems with is as follows -

Comment on the use of passive voice in the following sentence:

“The Strategy sets out the direction to be taken.”

I'm stumped for ideas. My notes from lectures mention objectivity is a common reason for using passive voice? Would that apply here?

Can anyone help?

Thanks
 
  • Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Welcome to the forum.

    We are glad to help, but would like first to know what you think might be the answer.

    As a start, what in this sentence do you identify as passive?

    (I agree that there is a passive.)
     

    UUBiker

    Senior Member
    United States, English
    well, it doesn't say who is going to be taking the direction, so there is a wonderful vagueness here as well. How in heck would one rewrite this in the active tense: The Strategy sets out the direction unnamed parties are to take. Of course even the seemingly active voice "The Strategy sets out" really hides the party who is truly "setting out" the strategy in which the direction is contained, so there is not only a failure to identify the party to whom the direction is intended, but a failure to identify from whom the Strategy (love the capital!) orginates.
     

    Aardvark01

    Senior Member
    British English (Midlands)
    well, it doesn't say who is going to be taking the direction, so there is a wonderful vagueness here as well. How in heck would one rewrite this in the active tense: The Strategy sets out the direction unnamed parties are to take....
    Most passives have no agent phrase:

    Boy: The bank has been robbed*!
    Police Man: Who did it?
    Boy: I don't know!

    *I do not know who did it.

    The point of the exercise appears to be to convert the active sentence into a passive one giving reasons why we would use it.
     

    UUBiker

    Senior Member
    United States, English
    Yes, but here's the deal: I bet here we know who set out the Strategy, and I bet we know for whom the direction is intended. It's not like a bank has been robbed. We know what's going on; we're just not telling you (or at least we're being oblique). Such is the writing style of bureaucracies where power is diffused so blame and accountability cannot be traced (not that I know anything about that, living in Arlington, Virginia).
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Aardvark, I agree with your explanation of a passive.

    The point of the exercise appears to be to convert the active sentence into a passive one giving reasons why we would use it.
    However, in my opinion there is indeed a passive construction in the sentence. I hope the original poster will identify it, so we can work out why it was used.
     
    Last edited:

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Welcome to the forum, Bertiebassett.

    To me "Comment on the use ..." is not a question but an invitation to write a book on anything and everything relating to that particular passive as used in that sentence.

    Do you have a particular question (or maybe a starting point for the essay you might want to respond with)?
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Let's wait for the poster to come back with more explanations and a specific question, please.

    Thanks everyone.
    Nun-Translator
    moderator
     

    bertiebassett

    New Member
    English - Ireland
    Hi guys,

    Thanks for your replies. To answer some questions -

    "As a start, what in this sentence do you identify as passive?"

    Well, I identified it as passive voice because there is the verb 'to be' followed by an action 'taken'. I think the original question is asking for an explanation of why passive voice is being used and not active voice. I just don't know how to put it into words.

    "Do you have a particular question (or maybe a starting point for the essay you might want to respond with)? "

    The question that I really need to know is - Why is passive voice being used in this instance and what effect does it have?

    If it's any help, here's the text that surrounds this sentence.

    "The Strategy focuses on the needs of adults and, in particular, those who currently have low levels of literacy and numeracy. It should, however, be seen as a continuum with the policies of the Department of Education, as that Department strives to ensure that our children and young people develop their literacy and numeracy skills.

    The Strategy sets out the direction to be taken. Many people have an interest in developing literacy and numeracy, not just those who work in the education sector but also those in the community and voluntary sectors, employers, trade unions and the general public..."
     

    Aardvark01

    Senior Member
    British English (Midlands)
    In an active statement (but not in a question) the construct is:

    Subject + verb/verb phrase + object.


    The stress naturally falls on the position of the object. Thus you were on the right track in thinking about 'objectivity' in a linguistic sense of 'object'.

    The Strategy sets out the direction to be taken.”

    - the bold red is, as you have already said, the passive voice.

    By way of illustration:
    In an alternative passive construct we might say:
    The direction is set out by the strategy.

    This construct would be appropriate if someone had asked the question:
    How do we know which direction to take?

    In the answer you want to draw attention to the word in the Object Position, not the Object itself.




    The task is to work out the question that has been asked to require the answer provided.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    In this case, the sentence could say "the direction to take", and the meaning would still be passive in meaning since the direction would still be taken, not doing the taking. It would then, however, sound more as if someone really needs to start heading in that direction. As it is, the direction seems to be waiting for some indefinite time in the fuzzy future when someone might choose to look toward it.

    The author uses "to be taken" instead of "to take" to continue the tone of the previous sentences. The purpose of so much passive voice in the other sentences appears to be to diffuse and obfuscate as UUBiker has explained, not to motivate action by anyone not already part of "the Strategy".

    It is likely that the person writing these sentences chooses passive voice, not deliberately to obfuscate, but automatically and unconsciously to match the tone of other documents in the same bureaucracy or to continue in accord with their training.

    This type of language may also be used to show a kind of modesty about what might be accomplished. The intent to be, or sound, modest is purportedly behind some of the training not to mention "I" and "we" in official documents and to lean heavily on passive voice constructions.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    When one uses the passive voice, it allows vagueness about who, exactly, is supposed to do the action named. It is for this reason that many "experts" dislike it; it is also precisely for this reason that it is chosen by many who choose to use it -- especially if they are writing reports for companies or government agencies!:)

    Consider these:

    We hope that an agreement will be reached by September.
    Who will reach that agreement? We don't know, and perhaps it is a question too complicated to discuss at the moment. (It may require that the Legislature agrees to it, or the local authorities change their minds, or a union contract is settled, etc., before A can agree with B, or possibly A's boss, C, will reach agreement with the new firm that has just bought B's company... you get the idea.)

    A reservation was made in the name of Dr. Newman.
    Who made the reservation? Well, who cares? Does it matter? It might have been made by the Doctor himself, or his wife, or his secretary, or his travel agent. The identity of the person who made the reservation is unimportant to this discussion; what is important is that SOMEONE made a reservation, and the reservation exists.
     

    Aardvark01

    Senior Member
    British English (Midlands)
    As Forero/UUBiker have said, there is a degree of obfuscation in the phrase:
    the direction to be taken.


    The speaker has avoided saying:
    the direction you should take.
     
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