Original post

I've always had a problem with the construction "he died". It is in the active voice, implying that he actively did something.

He didn't actively do anything, of course. He ceased to exist. His being ceased to be.

But even those two statements are in the active voice: "He ceased..." I guess I'm looking for something in the passive voice. Like, "he was died" or "he got dead".

Yet those invented passive-voice constructions are not quite right, either. They still suggest that some sort of action took place, something acted upon him.

It's really just a transition of states:

He was [in the state of being] alive.
Now he is [in the state of being] dead.

I'm looking for a linguistic construction that describes the transition from one state to another without any implication of action.

What am I reaching for here?


Thanks to all those who provided comments.

Hopefully this will provide some clarity on the thrust of my question:

Some verbs describe an action performed by the subject (e.g., to run, to jump, to throw, to talk, to cook). Other verbs describe the subject transitioning from one state of being to another, requiring no action on the part of the subject (e.g., to become, to stop existing, to cease to be, to appear, to disappear, to turn into, to materialize, to dematerialize, to die, to come alive).

Do linguists distinguish between these two categories of verbs?

  • 8
    "It is in the active voice, implying that he actively did something." This is simply not true. – curiousdannii Aug 29 '20 at 22:34
  • As curiousdannii says, this is a non-problem, but if it personally bothers you, you could always try: he stopped living, he ceased to be, he became defunct, he expired, he breathed his last, he passed away, he is no longer with us, he's in a better place, he's resting in peace... Just don't expect others to avoid "he died". – Luke Sawczak Aug 30 '20 at 4:01
  • Maybe someone you knew really died and didn't actively do anything to do it, but my grandpa died by actively doing so. What can you say to this? Don't you think you're overgeneralizing things, just a little bit? – Yellow Sky Aug 30 '20 at 5:39
  • 1
    The category Volitional exists in many languages; in English it distinguishes the semantics of spill and pour, for instance. Dying is usually not volitional, but it certainly is a state change. – jlawler Aug 30 '20 at 16:43
  • 2
    I guess you're searching for transitivity and concepts like unaccusative verbs. – phipsgabler Aug 31 '20 at 8:10

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