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Thread: Passive voice

  1. #1
    sondra is offline Member
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    Default Passive voice

    Hello,

    When is is it possible to use passive voice past countinuous and passive voice past simple interchangeably?
    For example;
    The new program was being tested for errors at three o'clock yesterday. Or The new program was tested for errors at three c'clock yestaerday. (I chose the second sentence as correct.)

    The book was being translated at 4 o'clock. Or
    The books was translated at 4 o'clock. (Correct)

    Dinner were being cooked by me.
    Dinner was cooked by me.(I think 'was cooked' is right)
    'Red Sunset' was being painted in 1986 by Smithers/ was painted.('was painted' is my choice)

    Thanks

  2. #2
    robbarron is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Passive voice

    Whilst you could use the past cont passive or the past simple passive in the example you gave, to say they are interchangeable is incorrect as they do not have an identical meaning.

    The machines were being tested at 4 o'clock -
    This can be two different things:
    1. The machine testing was in progress at 4pm (though it started before 4pm)
    2. The plan was to start testing the machines at 4pm but this may not have actually happened.


    The machines were tested at 4pm -
    This has just one meaning: they started testing the machines at 4pm and that action is now completed.

    Incidentally, the difference between them is just the same as it would be in the active voice so the fact this is passive makes no difference to the use of the tenses. Important always to remember that passive in itself is NOT a tense, merely a voice, ie a different aspect or viewpoint.

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    Default Re: Passive voice

    Quote Originally Posted by sondra View Post
    When is is it possible to use passive voice past continuous and passive voice past simple interchangeably?
    Rarely. The different forms convey different meanings.

    The new program was being tested for errors at three o'clock yesterday.
    The new program was tested for errors at three o'clock yesterday.


    Both are possible. Only context will tell us which is appropriate

    The book was being translated at 4 o'clock.
    The books was translated at 4 o'clock.

    The second is very unlikely.

    Dinner were was being cooked by me.
    Dinner was cooked by me.

    Both are possible. Only context will tell us which is appropriate

    'Red Sunset' was being painted in 1986 by Smithers/ was painted.

    Both are possible. Only context will tell us which is appropriate.

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    sondra is offline Member
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    Default Re: Passive voice

    I thought I should have used past simple in places where a specific time was mentioned and that past continuous would be wrong there with the specific time given in the sentences. Isn't it like that in general? I mean in active voice.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Passive voice

    Quote Originally Posted by sondra View Post
    I thought I should have used past simple in places where a specific time was mentioned and that past continuous would be wrong there with the specific time given in the sentences. Isn't it like that in general? I mean in active voice.
    Re-read robbarron's post - and mine.

    It is not possible to give a simple rule that covers all possibilities - context is so important. Let's look at a very simple example:

    1. I signed the documents at eight o'clock.
    2. I was signing the documents at eight o'clock.


    Without more context, we cannot say exactly what these two sentences mean. #1 probably means that I took the pen in my hand a few seconds before eight and, a few seconds after eight, I had signed the documents. #2 probably suggest that I began the process of document-signing before eight and completed it after eight. The focus of attention is on my being in the middle of signing at eight o'clock. Signing documents being something of short duration, there is probably not a great deal of difference in meaning between the two.

    3. I had dinner at eight o'clock.
    4. I was having dinner at eight o'clock,

    The process of having dinner normally takes much longer than that of signing documents. There is, therefore, a real difference between these two.

    As one cannot normally have dinner in a few seconds, we assume that, in #3, the speaker began to have dinner at eight.

    In #4, the speaker began to have dinner at some time, possibly thirty minutes or more, before eight, and finished, possibly thirty minutes or more, after eight. All we can say for sure is that, at eight o'clock, the speaker had begun, and had not yet finished, partaking of dinner.

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