Saturday, November 15, 2008

(AP) Polluted Passivity

Here's a link to a helpful page on the passive voice, a problem for many young writers.

The following sentence contains a canonical, eventive (or dynamic) passive voice construction. Notice that, contrary to the more familiar and straightforward subject-acting-on-object structure, the object of the action (the river) is the subject of the sentence while the actor, the one performing the action, is the object:

The river was polluted by the factory farmers.

A simple inversion of the subject and object produces this better result in the active voice, where the actor is the subject of the sentence:

The factory farmers polluted the river.

(Don't confuse the passive voice with the past tense. The factory farmers polluted the river uses the active voice to describe a past action.)

A long-time hunter of passive voice constructions, I stumbled recently over a couple of troublesome look-alikes. Here’s my attempt to clarify the grammatical distinctions between the following passive-looking creatures (so that I might take better aim in the future). I'll place my current, no doubt incomplete, view in parentheses.

The river was polluted. (As above, an eventive (dynamic) passive or stative (static) passive, depending on the meaning; that is, either someone polluted the river or the river was in a polluted state as a consequence of someone or something acting on it.)

That is a polluted river. (A so-called “adjectival passive.” As I understand it, while adjectival passives are not true passives (because participial adjectives, not verbs), they can contribute to the overall passivity of a sentence. This sentence may be indistinguishable in this instance from the stative passive above, “That river is polluted.”)

Don't swim in a polluted river. (An imperative containing either an adjectival passive or stative passive.)

He is bearded. (A self-reflexive adjectival passive?)

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