8

The active sentences (1a) and (2a) below can be passivized just like most English active clauses, resulting in (1b) and (2b):

1a. His candor struck me.

1b. I was struck by his candor.

2a. Her ideas impress me.

2b. I am impressed by her ideas.

But with the additions below, passivization becomes ungrammatical:

3a. His candor struck me as excessive.

3b. *I was struck by his candor as excessive.

4a. Her ideas impress me as farfetched.

4b. *I am impressed by her ideas as farfetched.

Why is this?

6
  • 1
    The elision of being can be done in active tense: "... as being excessive." In passive tense "being" is needed.
    – Joop Eggen
    Feb 10 '14 at 21:39
  • 2
    See Sportliche 1998: 185 for a possible explanation - he argues there could be two kinds of "strike" here, one with an external argument (passivization possible) or without an external argument (passivization impossible). The unpublished version is Sportliche 1990 ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/000020 (pp. 136-137 in the ms).
    – Alex B.
    Feb 10 '14 at 22:57
  • 2
    @AlexB., thanks for the link to Sportiche's paper. Another direction that is perhaps worth exploring is that the predicative phrase 'as excessive' cannot be predicated of 'his candor' when the latter appears inside the 'by'-PP.
    – Shai Cohen
    Feb 11 '14 at 8:03
  • 1
    @AlexB. Thanks for the link. I must agree I haven't read the whole thing, but just wondering why passivization is possible for e.g. "It took me by surprise" -> "I was taken by surprise". Is "by surprise" not an external argument here?
    – dainichi
    Feb 13 '14 at 1:30
  • 2
    I was struck by the excessiveness of his candor. The far fetchedness of her ideas impresses me.
    – Drew
    Feb 18 '14 at 5:36
12

There are several problems with the question:

Issue 1: The question assumes that passivization is actually a process that exists in language. It's carried over from the transformational heyday and feels so normal we might not even question it. But this is the context in which it should be questioned. In the constructional paradigm, this question does not come up because both passive and active as separate (if related) constructions, so you would not look at how one transforms the other. Instead, you would look at how each of these constructions could express similar meaning. And as several people pointed out that is very much possible.

  1. I was struck by his excessive candor (his excess of candor).
  2. I was impressed by how far fetched her ideas were.

Issue 2: You're focusing on the passive construction instead of the verb a noun as adjective construction. Something is clearly going on there with how it works.

Issue 3: Before you can deal with 2, you have to leave the realm of generalized syntax and focus on constructional semantics (Note: This is similar to the argument by Sportliche 1990 mentioned by Alex B. but without postulating new entities).

This would be best helped by some more real examples. I went to COCA and searched for .[v] .[p] as .[j]. This generated some more examples that suggested more of a context.

It would appear, the 'as something' only works when there is no force schema implied by the 'agent patient' relationship. For example, you have no problem with the passive equivalent as you can see in 3 and 4.

  1. They viewed me as excessive.
  2. I was viewed by them as excessive.

But you can even get the active construction to not work as in 5 or 6.

  1. *She struck him with a bat as excessive.
  2. *I impressed my seal into the wax as excessive.

You clearly have to use the metaphorical meanings of 'strike' and 'impress' where the force dynamics is suppressed. Here are some more corpus inspired examples.

  1. It struck me as a bit odd. / ?I was struck by this as a bit odd. / ? I was struck by this as a bit funny.
  2. She saw them as human. / They were seen (by her) as human.
  3. The police identified them as gang members. / They were identified by the police as gang members.
  4. They identified themselves as heterosexual. / *They were identified (by themselves) as heterosexual.

As you can see in the difference between 10 and 9. The AS construction can accept a more explicit agent-patient schema when dealing with a noun but the passive version somehow makes the schema too explicit with a property unless the verb itself suppresses the schema (as 'view' did in 4.)

There's probably more to the subtleties of the AS construction in different meanings but I hope I showed, that this is ultimately not about the passivization (should something like that even exist).

3
  • Thanks for this answer. I should say that I framed my question as being about "passivization" simply for brevity's sake, not to imply that the answer must come from a transformational framework (I believe even generative syntacticians these days don't necessarily see passive as a transformation of active). You're right that it's better viewed as a question about restrictions on semantically near-equivalent constructions. But I'm still not sure what the actual restrictions are.
    – TKR
    Oct 6 '14 at 15:03
  • I actually did not think you did expect a transformational answer, what I meant is that the legacy of transformations keeps us thinking in certain ways. And I think thinking about restrictions is a part of that legacy. Language is better viewed as something that positively generates meaningful expressions using an inventory of constructions. While it may be fruitful to think about the things that don't get said you, that is not because of restrictions but rather a lack of want. Oct 6 '14 at 17:24
  • 1
    I think the answer here has to do with scenario/image schemas encoded by the AS construction. The AS positions both the agent and the action into a perspectival relationship with the 'object' of AS. A bit of Googling reveals that you can indeed say X was "struck down by the courts as excessive". Because here you can construct a perspectival relationship that fits the schema. It would require a lot more work to actually reconstruct the schema. Why the passive construction does not blend with the AS construction in this context is puzzling but I'd look for answers in this direction. Oct 6 '14 at 17:36
1

The alternatives don't sound particularly ungrammatical to me but the issue is caused by disjoining the adjective. The sentences really are variants of "His excessive candor struck me." and "Her farfetched ideas impressed me."

Reintroducing the disjointed adjective makes them fine passives: "I was struck by his excessive candor." "I am impressed by her farfetched ideas."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.