EVERYTHING (ALMOST) YOU WANTED TO KNOW (WHO WANTS TO KNOW ABOUT THIS STUFF?), BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK. I am totally html inept, but will do my best to keep this blog supplied with plenty of syntax junk. The main aim here is to help my students (my future colleagues, in fact) come to grips with the syntax of English, even if they can't stand it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

PASSIVE VOICE & TRANSITIVITY

While a most respectable colleague and I have differed on this matter, I guess I have to hand it to him: VERBS, WHEN PLACED IN THE PASSIVE VOICE, MAINTAIN THEIR TRANSITIVITY. Still, like any strong-headed, red-blooded, “testosteronized” male, I would still like to put my “two cents” in for consideration. After all, it is my damn blog!

My argument:

When verbs are used in the passive voice, the direct object (DO) becomes the subject. If there is no DO, the verb loses its transitivity.

e.g. THE JANITOR SAW SOME KIDS IN THE HALLWAY. – ACTIVE VOICE
SOME KIDS WERE SEEN IN THE HALLWAY. – PASSIVE VOICE
Active voice:
- In the active voice, “the janitor” is the subject, governing the monotransitive verb (MTV) “see”.
- “see”, as any MTV, requires a direct object (DO), in this case, “some kids”.
- “in the hallway” is a prepositional phrase working as an adverbial phrase of place.
Passive voice:
- In the second example, “some kids” becomes the subject, governing the verb (number is important here - plural).
- “in the hallway” continues to be a prepositional phrase working as an adverbial phrase of place.
- WHERE IS THE DO? If a verb does not have a DO, how can it be transitive?
- My argument is that a verb with no DO loses its transitivity, making it an intransitive verb.

BUT…

My esteemed colleague’s argument:

Verbs do not lose their transitivity when placed in the passive voice.

Using the same example from above, his theory is only mildly convincing.

e.g. SOME KIDS WERE SEEN IN THE HALLWAY. – PASSIVE VOICE
Active voice:
We do not differ on the analysis of the active voice…,but…
Passive voice:
- In the second example, “some kids” becomes the PASSIVE SUBJECT, governing the verb, but still representing the DO.
- Yes, the passive subject has, essentially, two jobs within the clause. The passive subject, while working as a subject, will always represent an object (direct or indirect).
- Since there is an object, the verb maintains its transitivity.

The only way to carry out this kind of analysis is to revert back to the active voice.

Nevertheless, his argument becomes somewhat more convincing when the verb is a ditransitive verb (DTV).

e.g. THE ARMY ISSUED THE SOLDIERS NEW UNIFORMS. – ACTIVE VOICE
THE SOLDIERS WERE ISSUED NEW UNIFORMS. – PASSIVE VOICE
Active voice:
- In the active voice, “the army” is the subject, governing the ditransitive verb (DTV) “issue”.
- “issue”, as any DTV, requires a direct object (DO), in this case, “new uniforms”, and an indirect object (IO), “the soldiers” (The IO always receives the DO).
Passive voice:
- In the second example, “the soldiers” becomes the PASSIVE SUBJECT, governing the verb, but still representing the IO.
- “new uniforms” is still the DO. This is where his theory really does prove true. Any verb with an object must be transitive. Again, you can really only understand this by reverting back to the active voice.

I therefore concede defeat. Verbs in the passive voice maintain their transitivity.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

como eu nunca soube disso???? what a shame!

12:43 PM

 
Anonymous Fernanda said...

Teacher, I knew you would end up giving in... you never seemed convinced that TV's lose their transitivity in the passive voice!

12:32 PM

 
Anonymous Amanda said...

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Anonymous Sofia Pulici said...

Tony,
thanks for sharing all this stuff with us. Very kind of you, mate!

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Anonymous Carime said...

The conflict is ended... or not.
I think we could say that the passive voice can be compared to Love, because both are born in a new relationship whose parts must give up some aspects of their essence to embody the other’s value and become one... but still remaining two. Get it?

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Blogger cold turkey said...

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5:49 PM

 
Blogger * LANG UAGEL OVEL ANGUA GE * said...

Tony,

What a wonderful blog. I mean, although it´s a real syntax lunacy overdose! lol

I´ve linked yours to mine. Is that ok?

Thanks for sharing.

xoxo
Carmen Reis

11:20 PM

 
Blogger آدم الصالحي said...

sir
i have some quesions on syntax
transformations affix hopping negation SAI etc...
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