thread: 2011-02-07 : Grammatical Voices

On 2011-02-07, Jeff Russell wrote:

Just to jump on the grammar pedant train and put my dusty classics degree to some use, there's another feature related to tense and voice, but somewhat distinct. I *think* it's called aspect, but damnit I can't remember right now.

Usually it's implicit in tense forms, because it relates to the completeness of an action. For example:

"I ran yesterday"
"I had run before I went to bed"
"I was running while I listened to my ipod"

(Awkward constructions are to emphasize the common element - forms of "run" in the past).

The first is what in English we call the past tense, but in Latin/Greek would be the perfect. It implies an over and done action.

The second is the pluperfect tense (damn, I can't remember if English calls it the same - I learned it more through classical languages). It is used for an action that was over and done with before some other actions that happened in the past.

The third is the imperfect, and expresses an action that was 'open ended' and concurrent with some other past actions. This is why you sometimes see it used to imply something might be picked up again later "I was eating when you called."

In English it pretty much only matters to tenses, but Latin and Greek did some crazy things with different mood constructions (based on the tense of your main verb, the subordinate verbs would have different tenses in the subjunctive or optative mood to indicate their level of completeness relative to the main verb. *Usually* this corresponded with normal tense usage, but occasionally you ended up with a perfect tense subjunctive verb that would have been present tense in an indicative mood).

Whew! Crazy, not super relevant stuff!

At any rate, when it comes to the passive voice, I think that somewhere along the line it took on an association of formality, and a lot of RPG writers in the past have prioritized maintaining a lofty tone over clarity of instruction.

In my heart of hearts, though, I feel like the passive voice gets more abuse than it deserves. Mostly because I know more interesting adjectives and adverbs than interesting verbs, so I slip into it when I want to use cool words.


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