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Reasons for the Frequent Occurrence of the Passive

§ 69. Itis common knowledge that the passive is extensively
used in English. This seems to be due to a number of reasons:

1) In English there are no means of avoiding the indication of
the doer of the action in active constructions.

In other languages we find special active constructions which
make it possible to avoid any mention of the agent. For example,
in Russian there are several grammatical means that serve the

a) the so-called indefinite-personal sentences in which there is
no subject and the predicate is in the third person plural,

e.g. Греков держали как пленников, но при этом обращались с
ними самым почтительным образом и предоставляли им
всевозможные блага.

b) sentences with reflexive verbs,

e.g. Эта картина ценилась выше, чем все другие.

Он знал, что оставался еще один важный вопрос.
Его неожиданное появление объяснялось очень просто.

c) impersonal sentences,

e.g. He слышалось никакого шума.
Все небо обложило тучами.

In French and German the same idea is often expressed in sen-
tences with the indefinite pronoun on (Fr.) and man (Ger.).

e.g. He is much spoken about He issaid to be ill.

in the town.

Man sprichtviel von ihm Mansagt, dass er krank ist.

in der Stadt.

On parlebeacoup de lui dans On ditqu'il est malade.

la ville.

It is true that in English the indefinite pronoun one and occa-
sionally the personal pronouns we, you and they and the noun peo-
may be used in the same way.

e.g. "One ought to keep one's languages up," said Roy; his gaze

was solemn, reproving, understanding. "It's terrible how

oneforgets them. Isn't it?"
Onewill have to think twice about accepting invitations — if

there is a risk of being made miserable. Onewill just have

to refuse.
"Is that the old lady who lives in the house by the church?"

"That's right." "Theysay she's sharp," said Tiddler.

"They say there's nothing goes on near that Miss Marple

doesn't hear about."
In my young days it was considered to be bad manners to

take medicines with one's meals. If youhad to take pills

or capsules, or a spoonful of something, youwent out of

the room to do so.
"Oh, I'm sure I never said anything of the kind," Lola laughed.

"Peopleexaggerate so."

But for some reason or other, the use of this kind of sentences
is restricted, and English, instead, resorts to passive constructions.

2) In English, owing to the loss of distinction between the ac-
cusative and the dative cases, the number of verbs taking a direct
object is quite considerable. It accounts for the extensive use of
the Direct Passive.

3) There is a great variety of passive constructions in English.
Although some of them are restricted in their application, they
still contribute to the frequent occurrence of the Passive.


§ 70. Generally Moodshows the relation between the action ex-
pressed by the predicate verb and reality. This relation is estab-
lished by the speaker.

In present-day English the category of moodis made up by a
set of forms opposed to each other in presenting the event de-
scribed as a real fact, a problematic action or as something un-
real that does not exist.

§ 71.Actions represented as real facts are expressed by the In-
dicative Mood.

e.g. Architects have donesome very good work, too, in designing
new schools. Many of these areprefabricated, which means
that as much of the building work as possible is donenot
on the building site but in factories where mass produc-
tion methods are used.

When the brothers hadgone home, Mr Waterall announced
that they werea much pleasanter pair of young men than
he had been ledto believe.

The Indicative Mood is characterized by a great number of
tense-aspect-phase forms which may be used in the Active or in the
Passive Voice. These forms have been described in "Verbs", § 7-68.

Note. It should be stressed that the use of the Indicative Mood does not always-.
mean that the action expressed by the predicate verb is true to fact, that it actually
takes (or took, or will take) place in reality. When the speaker uses the Indicative
Mood he merely represents an action as a fact, but he may be mistaken or even tell-
ing a lie.

e.g. "I've seen to it," he said, but everyone knew it was not true.

§ 72. Commands and requests which are problematic actions
are expressed by the Imperative Mood.

The Imperative Mood is the plain stem of the verb (e.g. Come
over here. Listen to him,
etc.). It may be used in the affirmative
and in the negative form. The negative form is an analytical form
built up by means of the plain stem of the auxiliary verb to dofol-
lowed by not(in spoken English — don't)and the infinitive of the
notional verb without to(e.g. Don't go over there. Don't listen to

him, etc.). The negative form of the verb to be is also built up by
means of the auxiliary verb to do(e.g. Don't be inquisitive. Don't
be afool,

If we wish to make a command or request more expressive, we
use the emphatic form. It is also an analytical form built up with
the help of the plain stem of the auxiliary verb to dowhich is
placed before the notional verb, including to be(e.g. Do come over
here. Do listen to him. Do be quiet,

A command or request is generally addressed to the second
person singular or plural (see the examples above). There is usual-
ly no need to mention the subject of the action before the verb in
the Imperative Mood. But occasionally the verb may be preceded
by you in familiar style (e.g. You don't worry.).

A command or request may be addressed to the third person,
singular or plural. Commands and requests of this kind are formed
with the help of the plain stem of the verb to letwhich is followed
by a personal pronoun in the objective case (him, her, it or them)
and the infinitive of the notional verb without to(e.g. Let him go
there at once. Let them do it by themselves,

A command or request may be addressed to the first person
plural. It is also formed with the help of the plain stem of the verb
to letfollowed by the pronoun us (the contracted form is let's)
and the infinitive of the notional verb. This form is actually an
invitation to a joint action (e.g. Let's have a cup of tea. Let's do
it together, etc.). In the negative form let's is followed by not
(e.g. Let's not talk about it.).

Note. In colloquial English we also find Don't let's talk about it.

§ 73. Actions represented as unreal are in present-day English
expressed by a variety of forms.

Among them there is a mood form — the Conditional Mood
(see § 124).

The fact that there are a number of forms engaged in ex-
pressing unreal actions can be explained historically.

In the older periods English used to be a synthetic language
and had special forms which served to express unreal actions —
the so-called Subjunctive Mood. It was built up synthetically by
means of inflections. As a result of loss of inflections, the differ-
ence between the forms of the Indicative Mood and the Subjunctive

Mood has in most cases disappeared. The place of the old Subjunc-
tive Mood was in a number of cases taken up by analytical forms
and modal phrases, i.e. combinations of modal verbs with the in-
finitive. It is this historical process that accounts for the great
variety of different forms expressing unreality in modern En-

As some of the forms expressing problematic or unreal actions
are modal phrases, it is necessary before describing the different
forms of unreality to treat modal verbs first.

§ 74. The speaker's attitude towards the action in the sentence
may be expressed in different ways:

1)By one of the mood formswhich serve, as has been said, to
show whether the action is represented as a real fact or as prob-
lematic, or unreal. This form of expression is found in every sen
tence because it is indispensable to predication.

2) By modal verbswhich represent an action as necessary or
unnecessary, possible or impossible, certain or doubtful and the
like. But modal verbs need not be used in every sentence and are,
therefore, to be regarded as an additional means of expressing the
speaker's attitude towards the action in the sentence.

3) By attitudinal adverbssuch as certainly, perhaps, probably,
luckily, unfortunately,
etc. (see also "Adverbs", § 2, 8). They ex-
press different degrees of certainty on the part of the speaker or
the desirability of the action from his point of view.

Modal Verbs

§75.We find the following modal verbs in English: can, may.
must, ought, shall, should, will, need
and dare.Besides, tohave

and to bein some of their uses are also classed among modal


A modal verb in combination with the infinitive forms a modal

Compound predicate.

Modal verbs are defective verbs since they lack many forms
characteristic of regular verbs: they have no -s in the third per-
son singular in the present tense and no verbals, so they have no
analytical forms; some of them lack the form of the past tense.

Modal verbs have the following peculiarities:

1) they are followed by the infinitive withoutthe particle to
(with the exception of ought, to have and to be);

2) their interrogative and negative forms are built up without
the auxiliary do.

Most of the modal verbs have more than one meaning. Each of
their meanings is characterized by a specific usage.

1) Some of the meanings may be found in all kinds of sentenc-
es; others occur only in affirmative or interrogative or negative

2) Different meanings may be associated with different forms
of the infinitive — simple and perfect (both in the active and pas-
sive forms), continuous and perfect continuous;

3) If the modal verbs have more than one form (can — could-,
may — might, will — would,
also the verbs to have and to be),
their different meanings are not necessarily found in all those

The use of modal verbs is in most cases independent of the
structure of the sentence: the use of this or that modal verb is de-
termined by the attitude of the speaker towards the facts con-
tained in the sentence. In this case we may speak of the free or in-
dependent use of modal verbs.

e.g. He admires you. He thinks you're a little beauty. Perhaps I

oughtn't to have toldyou that.
He may bein the hall now, waiting for me.

But sometimes the use of certain modal verbs depends on the
structure of the sentence, mainly on the type of the subordinate
clause, and occasionally also on the lexical character of the predi-
cate verb in the principal clause. This may be called the structural-
ly dependent use of modal verbs.

e.g. Itis obviously necessary that an investigation should be

Christine feared she might not be metat all.

As the difference between the active and the passive forms of the infinitive is of
no consequence for the meaning of the modal verb, there is no need to illustrate these
forms separately. However, instances where the differentiation between the active
and the passive infinitive is important, are dealt with specialty.

When the use of modal verbs is structurally dependent, their
meaning is sometimes weakened; in fact, it may be quite vague.
This may be accounted for by the fact that these verbs become
rather part of the structure than bearers of individual meaning.

It is important to take into account one more feature peculiar
to modal verbs. They all show that a certain action is represented
as necessary, possible, desirable, doubtful, etc. from the pointof
view of the speaker.Consequently, modal verbs are generally used
in conversation, In past-time contexts they may be found only in
reported speech or thought. Thus You should have done it before,
or He might be wrong, or It must be true cannot be possibly found
in narration unless they are used after He thought that... . He
said that... . He knew that...,

The only exceptions are the past tense forms could, would,
had, was
and might which may be used not only in conversation
but also in narration.

e.g. Walker was illiterate and could notsign his name.

When I looked at her I saw tears in her eyes. So I had totell
her the truth.


§ 76. The modal verb can has the following forms: can —the
present tense (e.g. He can speak English) and could —the past
tense. The form could is used in two ways: a) in past-time contexts
as a form of the Indicative Mood (e.g. He could speak English
when he was a child),
b) in present-time contexts to express unre
ality, or as a milder and more polite form of can, or as a form
implying more uncertainty than can (e.g. He could speak English
if necessary. Could I help you? Could it be true?)
Compare with
the Russian мог бы: Он мог бы сделать это, если бы у него
было время
(unreality). He мог бы я вам помочь? (politeness) He
ужели он мог бы так сказать"!

§ 77. Can has the following meanings:
1) ability, capability,

e.g. I can imaginehow angry he is.
He can reada little French.

This meaning may also be expressed by to be able.The phrase
can be used in all tense-forms if necessary.

In the meaning of ability and capability can occurs in all kinds
of sentences.

e.g. She can playa few simple tunes on the piano.
Canyou writewith your left hand?
I cannot (can't) promiseyou anything.

In this case can is followed by the simple infinitive (see the ex-
amples above) and reference is made to the present. But depending
on the context it may also refer to the future.

e.g. We can discuss your paper after lunch.

However, if the time reference is not clear from the context or
if it is necessary to stress that the action refers to the future,
shall/will be ableis used.

e.g. He will be able to writeto us from Portugal.
I shall be able to earnmy own living soon.

The form could may be used in past-time contexts and in this
case it is followed by a simple infinitive. It is a form of the Indica-
tive Mood here.

e.g. He could reada great deal during the holidays.
Couldthe boy readbefore he went to school?
After what had happened I couldn't trusthim.

The form could may also be used in present-time contexts in
combination with the simple infinitive to express unreality with
reference to the present or future.

e.g. "I don't want my daughter to be a typist." "Why not? She could

besecretary to some interesting man." (могла бы быть)
You could articulatemore distinctly with that cigarette out
of your mouth, (мог бы говорить более отчетливо)

As the form could may be used in two ways (see § 76) it is
Usually understood as expressing unreality with reference to the
present or future unless there are indications of past time in the
sentence or in the context. Thus the sentence She could paint
will be understood as Она могла бы писать пейзажи.

If there is no indication of past time in the context but the speak
er wishes to refer the action to the past, was/were able is used in-
of could to avoid ambiguity.

e.g. She was able to explainthe mystery.

In combination with the perfect infinitive could indicates that
the action was not carried out in the past.

e.g. She could have explainedthe mystery. Она могла бы объяс-
нить эту тайну, (но не объяснила)

2) possibility due to circumstances,

e.g. You can seethe forest through the other window.

We can useeither the Present Perfect or the Present Perfect
Continuous in this sentence.

In this meaning can is found in all kinds of sentences. It is fol-
lowed by the simple infinitive and it refers the action to the
present or future.

e.g. You can obtaina dog from the Dogs' Home at Battersea.
Canwe use the indefinite article with this noun?
We can'tuse the indefinite article with this noun.

In past-time contexts the form could is used. It is followed by
the simple infinitive in this case.

e.g. You couldsee the forest through the other window before the
new block of houses was erected.

The form could in combination with the simple infinitive may
also express unreality with reference to the present or future.

e.g. You couldsee the house from here if it were not so dark.

In combination with the perfect infinitive, could indicates that
the action was not carried out in the past.

e.g. You could have seenthe house from there if it had not been
so dark.

Note. When could is used with reference to the past it denotes only the ability
or possibility of performing an action but not the realization of the action. There
fore when a realized or an unrealized action is expressed, could is naturally not
used. If an action was carried out in the past, it is expressed with the help of to
or to succeed (the latter is used in literary style).

e.g. He managed to settle the difficulty.
He succeeded in attaining his aim.

If an action was not realized in the past it is expressed with the help of to fail,
or to manage and to succeed in the negative form.

e.g. He failed to reach the peak.

He did not manage to settle the difficulty.

Compare with the Russian: Он мог (был способен) переплыть Волгу в юно-
сти. — In his youth he could swim across the Volga.

But: Он смог переплыть Волгу а прошлом году. — Не managed to swim
across the Volga last year.
Also in: Он не мог (ему не удалось) переплыть Волгу
в прошлом году. — Не failed (didn't manage) to swim across the Volga last year.

As for to be able, it may, depending on the lexical character of the infinitive
or the context, express either the ability or possibility of performing an action or
the realization of that action.

e.g. He was able to speak English well. (Он мог/умел хорошо говорить по-англий-


Не was able to get the book from the library. (Он смог достать книгу в биб-


e.g.You can takemy umbrella.

Can in this meaning is found in affirmative sentences, inter-
rogative sentences in which a request is expressed, and in negative
sentences where it expresses prohibition.

Cf. You can usemy car.
CanI useyour car?
You can't usemy car today.

In this meaning can is combined with the simple infinitive.
The form could with reference to the present is found only in
interrogative sentences in which it expresses a more polite request.

e.g. CouldI useyour car?

The form could is found in reported speech (i.e. in accordance
with the rules of the sequence of tenses).

e.g. He said that I could usehis car.

Heasked me if he could usemy car.

4) uncertainty, doubt,

e.g. Canit betrue?

In this meaning can is found only in interrogative sentences
(in general questions). Besides, sentences of this kind are often
emotionally coloured and so their application is rather restricted.

Depending on the time reference, can in this meaning is used
in combination with different forms of the infinitive.

Thus, if reference is made to the present, the simple infinitive
is found with stative verbs.

e.g. Canhe really beill?
Canit beso late?

With dynamic verbs, the continuous infinitive is used.

e.g. Canshe be tellinglies?

Canhe be makingthe investigation all alone?

Can in combination with the perfect infinitive refers the ac-
tion to the past.

e.g. Canhe have saidit?

Canshe have tolda lie?

The combination of can with the perfect infinitive may also
indicate an action begun in the past and continued into the mo-
ment of speaking. This is usually found with stative verbs.

e.g. Canshe really have beenat home all this time?

However, if can is followed by a dynamic verb the Perfect
Continuous infinitive is used.

e.g. Canshe have been waitingfor us so long?

Could with reference to the present is also used in this way,
implying more uncertainty.

e.g. Couldit betrue?

Couldshe be tellinglies?

Couldhe have saidit?

Couldshe have been waiting for us so long?

In Russian both variants, with can and could, are rendered in
the same way: Неужели это правда?, Неужели она лжет? and
so on.

5) improbability,
e.g. It can't be
true. (Это не может быть правдой. Вряд ли это так.)

In this meaning can is found only in negative sentences, which
are often emotionally coloured. Depending on the time reference,
this can is also used with different forms of the infinitive.

e.g. He can't bereally ill.
She can't be tellinglies.
He can't have saidit.

She can't have beenat home all this time.
She can't have been waitingfor us so long.

Could is also used in this way making the statement less cate-

e.g.It couldn't betrue.

She couldn't be telling lies.

He couldn't have saidit.

She couldn't have beenat home all this time.

She couldn't have been waitingfor us so long.

§ 78. Can and could followed by different forms of the infinitive,
are found in special questions where they are used for emotional co-
louring (for instance, to express puzzlement, impatience, etc.).

e.g. What can (could)he mean?
What can (could)he be doing?
What can (could)he have done?
Where can (could)he have gone to?

Itcan be rendered in Russian as: Что, собственно, он имеет
в виду?

§ 79. As is seen from the above examples, the form could refer-
ring to the present is sometimes clearly opposed to can in that it
expresses unreality whereas can expresses reality. This may be ob-
served in the following meanings:

ability — He can speak English.

He could speak English if necessary.

possibility due to circumstances —

You can getthe book from the library.

You could getthe book from the library if necessary.

In the other meanings, however, this difference between the
two forms is obliterated. Could is used either as a milder or more
polite form of can (a) or as a form implying more uncertainty
than can (b):

a) permission — CanI useyour pen?

CouldI useyour pen? (more polite)

b) uncertainty, doubt, improbability —

Canit betrue?

Couldit betrue? (less certain)

It can't betrue.

It couldn't betrue, (less certain)

§ 80- In addition to the above cases illustrating the inde-
pendent use of can, this modal verb occurs in adverbial clauses of
purpose, where it is structurally dependent (for a detailed treat-
ment of this use of can see "Verbs", § 143).

e.g. I'llleave the newspaper on the table so that he can see itat


I left the newspaper on the table so that he could seeit at

§ 81. Note the following set phrases with can:

a) She can't help crying.


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