Discussion:
Awkward construct
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i***@gmail.com
2018-07-06 20:43:23 UTC
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Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".

Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".

In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?

I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
Tony Cooper
2018-07-06 21:37:03 UTC
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Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
Your message has been received.
--
Tony Cooper - Orlando, Florida
B***@37.com
2018-07-07 03:02:32 UTC
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Post by Tony Cooper
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
Your message has been received.
--
Tony Cooper - Orlando, Florida
Now that's funny. But it does raise a legitimate question for me as a writer, when do you want the passive voice and when is the passive voice a virtue? Or better yet when is awkward not?
B***@37.com
2018-07-08 22:06:25 UTC
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Post by Tony Cooper
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
Your message has been received.
--
Tony Cooper - Orlando, Florida
Does this mean passive voice is always past tense/
Madrigal Gurneyhalt
2018-07-08 22:43:23 UTC
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Post by B***@37.com
Post by Tony Cooper
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
Your message has been received.
--
Tony Cooper - Orlando, Florida
Does this mean passive voice is always past tense/
This is being thought about!
B***@37.com
2018-07-08 23:56:50 UTC
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Post by Madrigal Gurneyhalt
Post by B***@37.com
Post by Tony Cooper
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
Your message has been received.
--
Tony Cooper - Orlando, Florida
Does this mean passive voice is always past tense/
This is being thought about!
I'm easily confused by good grammar, I mean good grammar easily confuses me, so I found this object lesson helped https://webapps.towson.edu/ows/activepass.htm
B***@37.com
2018-07-09 19:12:09 UTC
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Post by Madrigal Gurneyhalt
Post by B***@37.com
Post by Tony Cooper
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
Your message has been received.
--
Tony Cooper - Orlando, Florida
Does this mean passive voice is always past tense/
This is being thought about!
https://webapps.towson.edu/ows/activepass.htm

This grammar lesson that I posted above on passive / active voice is better than I originally thought for it actually answered the question I begged on when and why passive is preferable.

But OTH the two topic sentences on active and passive were not particularly parallel in construction, and the missing passive parallel construction necessarily has to make a reader work harder to understand it, and I just hate that. So can you help me out and take a stab at making them parallel and save me the embarrassment and effort if I fail?

So if the topic sentence and example for the active voice was "In most English sentences with an action verb, the subject performs the action denoted by the verb" as in "The man must have eaten five hamburgers" —— so, therefore, the parallel construction for the passive voice, in this case, would be what exactly?

Particularly if it started with "In most English sentences with ... as in "Five hamburgers must have been eaten by the man"

BTW they sorta give themselves an excuse for not being parallel in construction when they say "Because passive voice sentences necessarily add words and change the normal doer-action-receiver of action direction, they often may make the reader work harder to understand the intended meaning —— but i still think they should have tried no? So not to be pedantic, what say you and start with "In most English sentences...? :-))
Tony Cooper
2018-07-09 01:07:19 UTC
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Post by B***@37.com
Post by Tony Cooper
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
Your message has been received.
--
Tony Cooper - Orlando, Florida
Does this mean passive voice is always past tense/
Your message will be ignored.
--
Tony Cooper - Orlando, Florida
Richard Yates
2018-07-06 22:29:36 UTC
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Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
The passive voice avoids specifying the entity responsible and thus
avoids blame. Adding the further circumlocution "was unable to"
thickens the insulation.

The phrasing essentially blames the victims (the package and the file
being downloaded).
Jerry Friedman
2018-07-07 01:38:07 UTC
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Post by Richard Yates
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
The passive voice avoids specifying the entity responsible and thus
avoids blame. Adding the further circumlocution "was unable to"
thickens the insulation.
"The download was not able to complete" is not in the passive voice,
though "The package could not be delivered" has a passive construction.
Post by Richard Yates
The phrasing essentially blames the victims (the package and the file
being downloaded).
I don't see a point in assigning blame for a failed download, since I
don't see how you could tell who or what is to blame. Nevertheless, I
don't like the construction, which seems to imply that the download was
trying to do something. I also agree with you in disliking "was unable to".
--
Jerry Friedman
Richard Yates
2018-07-07 02:20:00 UTC
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On Fri, 6 Jul 2018 19:38:07 -0600, Jerry Friedman
Post by Jerry Friedman
Post by Richard Yates
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
The passive voice avoids specifying the entity responsible and thus
avoids blame. Adding the further circumlocution "was unable to"
thickens the insulation.
"The download was not able to complete" is not in the passive voice,
though "The package could not be delivered" has a passive construction.
Post by Richard Yates
The phrasing essentially blames the victims (the package and the file
being downloaded).
I don't see a point in assigning blame for a failed download, since I
don't see how you could tell who or what is to blame.
Most people whose download fails will blame someone or something. The
error message writers do not want the finger pointed at them, which is
why there is no "We" in the message as was suggested by the OP.
Post by Jerry Friedman
Nevertheless, I
don't like the construction, which seems to imply that the download was
trying to do something. I also agree with you in disliking "was unable to".
B***@37.com
2018-07-07 03:06:19 UTC
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Post by Richard Yates
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
The passive voice avoids specifying the entity responsible and thus
avoids blame. Adding the further circumlocution "was unable to"
thickens the insulation.
The phrasing essentially blames the victims (the package and the file
being downloaded).
"The passive voice avoids specifying blame" — I like that answer esp when it applies to s/w.
Quinn C
2018-07-09 23:03:06 UTC
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Post by Richard Yates
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying
"The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these
sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package
was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could
not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the
download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is
it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download
the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear.
But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the
passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar,
doesn't it?
The passive voice avoids specifying the entity responsible and thus
avoids blame. Adding the further circumlocution "was unable to"
thickens the insulation.
The phrasing essentially blames the victims (the package and the file
being downloaded).
"Please enter your customer number now. If a mistake has been made,
press the star key." (In some telephone systems.)
--
Do not they speak false English ... that doth not speak thou to one,
and what ever he be, Father, Mother, King, or Judge, is he not a
Novice, and Unmannerly, and an Ideot, and a Fool, that speaks Your
to one, which is not to be spoken to a singular, but to many?
-- George Fox (1660)
Mark Brader
2018-07-06 22:31:58 UTC
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Post by i***@gmail.com
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But
when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive
voice as much as possible...
...your judgement is apt to have been warped.
--
Mark Brader, Toronto | "Effective immediately, all memos are to be written
***@vex.net | in clear, active-voice English." -- US gov't memo
Athel Cornish-Bowden
2018-07-07 06:46:15 UTC
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Post by Mark Brader
Post by i***@gmail.com
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But
when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive
voice as much as possible...
...your judgement is apt to have been warped.
+1

There is nothing wrong with using the passive when it's appropriate. In
any case, there is no passive in "The download was unable to complete":
awkward, yes; passive, no.
--
athel
Madrigal Gurneyhalt
2018-07-07 11:26:23 UTC
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Post by Athel Cornish-Bowden
Post by Mark Brader
Post by i***@gmail.com
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But
when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive
voice as much as possible...
...your judgement is apt to have been warped.
+1
There is nothing wrong with using the passive when it's appropriate. In
awkward, yes; passive, no.
The number of complaints about passives that are not in fact passive
at all is staggering, though nothing as compared to the number of
'experts' who rail against the passive using the passive!
Peter T. Daniels
2018-07-07 13:08:44 UTC
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Post by Madrigal Gurneyhalt
The number of complaints about passives that are not in fact passive
at all is staggering, though nothing as compared to the number of
'experts' who rail against the passive using the passive!
OTOH, one of the great stylists of the 20th century, E. B. White, followed
his own advice and did eschew the passive as close to entirely as I could
discover while reading the collection *One Man's Meat* (but it's too easy
to be distracted by the content to pay close attention to the syntax).
Horace LaBadie
2018-07-07 00:02:47 UTC
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Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The
download was unable to complete"
The download couldn't be completed.
Post by i***@gmail.com
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these
sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not
able to be delivered".
The package couldn't be delivered.

Those constructions would be normal.
Post by i***@gmail.com
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not
deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does
raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the
site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when
you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as
much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
A life spent avoiding the the passive voice is a life misspent.
Athel Cornish-Bowden
2018-07-07 06:47:15 UTC
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Post by Horace LaBadie
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The
download was unable to complete"
The download couldn't be completed.
Post by i***@gmail.com
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these
sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not
able to be delivered".
The package couldn't be delivered.
Those constructions would be normal.
Post by i***@gmail.com
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not
deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does
raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the
site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when
you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as
much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
A life spent avoiding the the passive voice is a life misspent.
I already said +1 to Mark, but I'll say it again: +1
--
athel
occam
2018-07-08 20:23:33 UTC
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Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
It is not just a question of using a passive voice. It is also a case of
absolving oneself of any liability or incompetence. "We could not
deliver the package" implies UPS is at fault whereas "The package was
not able to be delivered" is distancing the company from the problem and
the responsibility. Same for "The download was unable to complete",
which acknowledges the failed attempt, without identifying the exact
cause (their server, the internet connection, intermediate hops, your
PC, and so on).
Mark Brader
2018-07-08 22:16:35 UTC
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Post by occam
It is not just a question of using a passive voice. It is also a case of
absolving oneself of any liability or incompetence. "We could not
deliver the package" implies UPS is at fault...
Nonsense.
--
Mark Brader "I think [they] wanted ... us ... to try [them] out
Toronto and then tell the world how good they are, and
***@vex.net it's tempting to do just that." -- Steve Summit
John Varela
2018-07-08 23:05:14 UTC
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Post by occam
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
It is not just a question of using a passive voice. It is also a case of
absolving oneself of any liability or incompetence. "We could not
deliver the package" implies UPS is at fault whereas "The package was
not able to be delivered" is distancing the company from the problem and
the responsibility.
The way it's worded implies that the package itself was the active
agent that was unable to be delivered. Better would be "The package
could not be delivered." That carries a mild implication of force
majeur.
Post by occam
Same for "The download was unable to complete",
"The download did not go to completion." A simple statement of
fact.
Post by occam
which acknowledges the failed attempt, without identifying the exact
cause (their server, the internet connection, intermediate hops, your
PC, and so on).
--
John Varela
Mark Brader
2018-07-09 00:41:05 UTC
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Post by John Varela
Post by occam
Same for "The download was unable to complete",
"The download did not go to completion." A simple statement of
fact.
But less specific. It includes the case where you chose to abort it.
--
Mark Brader | "And I won't like [this usage] any better if you
Toronto | produce examples from Shakespeare, Milton, Johnson ...
***@vex.net | Or, indeed, myself." --Mike Lyle
Peter T. Daniels
2018-07-09 04:13:41 UTC
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Post by occam
Post by i***@gmail.com
Recently, when trying to install some s/w, I got a pop-up saying "The download was unable to complete"
Maybe I am imagining it but I seem to be encountering more of these sentences. Another example I recently got in an email "The package was not able to be delivered".
Somehow I just find these sentences to be, for want of a better word, "awkward".
In the second example it would have sounded better to say "We could not deliver the package"- the "we" being, UPS in this case.
But replacing the first one with "We could not complete the download" does raise the question who the "we" is. Is it my PC? Is it the ISP? Is it the site from which I was attempting to download the s/w?
I know, I know, it's just a minor thing and the message is clear. But when you have gone through a lifetime of writing avoiding the passive voice as much as possible, a sentence like that does jar, doesn't it?
It is not just a question of using a passive voice. It is also a case of
absolving oneself of any liability or incompetence. "We could not
deliver the package" implies UPS is at fault whereas "The package was
not able to be delivered" is distancing the company from the problem and
the responsibility.
But normal people would say "The package could not be delivered."
Post by occam
Same for "The download was unable to complete",
"The download could not be completed" or better "The download did not complete."
Post by occam
which acknowledges the failed attempt, without identifying the exact
cause (their server, the internet connection, intermediate hops, your
PC, and so on).
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