Archive for the ‘Passive’ Category

Pullum on the passive

January 21, 2014

Geoff Pullum writes about an excellent article of his in press:

Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2014)  Fear and loathing of the English passive.  Language and Communication, in press, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.langcom.2013.08.009

(The URL is not yet functional, but will soon be.)

It comes in two parts — one about what passive clauses are, and a longer section on the damnation of the passive.

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Misfired indirection

February 22, 2012

Yesterday’s Zits:

Something more direct might have worked better.

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Ask AZBlog: passive query

January 15, 2012

From Nicholas Kristof’s NYT opinion column 1/8 (“A Poverty Solution That Starts With a Hug”):

The science is still accumulating. But a compelling message from biology is that if we want to chip away at poverty and improve educational and health outcomes, we have to start earlier. For many children, damage has been suffered before the first day of school.

Then on 1/9 commenter Mar Rojo (on Barbara Partee’s 1/4 Language Log posting “Nate Silver knows his passives”) added a query about that last sentence, and e-mailed the query to me:

After reading Geoff Pullum’s description of the passive in English, I thought I knew my passive. Now I’m not sure. A few commenters on a certain language forum have claimed this as passive: “For many children, damage has been suffered before the first day of school.” Is it?

The short answer is Yes.

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Verbatim recall

July 22, 2010

A little while ago, I posted about the zeugma in this sentence from a BBC News report on an Amtrak-mooning event in Rancho Niguel CA:

It features directions to Camino Capistrano, the road where trousers and dignity are dropped each year.

But that wasn’t quite the way the report came to me in the first place. What I heard from Chris Ambidge on soc.motss was, instead, what he described as

the musical phrase “lowering their trousers and their dignity”

Still zeugmatic, but different from the Beeb’s version.

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Be-less passives and be-ful non-passives

June 12, 2009

Since 2003, the Language Loggers have been looking at what people say about passives: what people identify as “passive” or “passive voice” (or, sometimes, alas, “passive tense”) and what as not; what they advise about the use of this syntax; and so on.

From the very first posting on passives, the Loggers have noted the inclination of a great many people to identify as passive voice any clause that is “vague on agency” (by failing to assign responsibility for some situation to a specific human agent). (Sometimes it’s clauses denoting situations that are not activities that are so identified.) The agency tradition continues, in two postings today, from Geoff Pullum and Mark Liberman, on Charles Krauthammer, here and here.

Concerns about agency and activity have led a surprising number of people (including many who really should know better) to identify as passive all clauses with the head verb be and to condemn such clauses as “weak”, “inactive”, “vague”, “boring”, and the like. But this fails in both directions: there are passive expressions that lack be and expressions with be that aren’t passive.

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