I don’t often consider or question the syntax of my own native language, why certain words are used in these phrases, and the order that they come in. The importance or significance of knowing syntax is being able to use it correctly when we speak and write.
The other day I ran across a verb phrase while proofreading a Japanese teacher’s writing that gave me pause.
The teacher wrote the sentence, “The tests will be return on Monday.” When you read that sentence as a native speaker, the error immediately jumps out at you. I changed the infinitive “return” to the past tense, “returned,” to make the sentence grammatically correct. “The tests will be returned on Monday.” But then I began to think more about this particular error.
Will be returned
When I thought more about it, I knew this particular verb phrase (will be returned) was in the future tense, it will happen, it will happen on Monday. I knew that “will” was followed by the “be” verb form, and I was pretty sure the “returned” was just the past tense form of “return”.
After researching more online, I found out “will be returned” was an example of the future passive voice.
I had forgotten learning about the passive voice and the future passive voice. According to the website Jerz’s Literacy Weblog, “The passive voice is used to show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than the person or object that performs the action” (https://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/grammar-and-syntax/active-and-passive-verbs/).
I can form the passive voice when writing or speaking and know when it sounds right or wrong by reading or when listening to it, but I guess I never really thought that much about what situations warrant the use of the passive voice.
An example sentence can help illustrate.
The rules will be read again.
This sentence helps us see that the focus is on the thing that is experiencing an action, in this case the rules, rather than the rules performing any direct action. That makes sense.
Would English second language learners have trouble deciding to use the active or passive voice? If we are able to see a sentence and deconstruct it, we can see how the ideas inside the sentence work together but I wonder how difficult it is to decide to form the future passive voice or not as an English learner.
When I thought more about it, it also seems strange that the future passive voice would include a past tense verb. In the case of “will be returned,” the correct past tense is “returned.” If it is happening in the future, why are we using a past tense verb? (Because it will be completed in the future?) Again, it’s something that I never really thought much about but just accepted. I would imagine using the past tense for future events might be confusing for second language learners!