- A canonical post on the passive is a good idea.
- A canonical post as a tool for enabling the closure of the majority of the large number of passive voice questions we get is a terrible idea.
- Only 425 questions on the passive so far? What is wrong with us?
We should be getting a better range of questions than this on the passive. There's obviously too much what does this word/phrase mean stuff encouraged on here at the expense of grammar and pronunciation. We need to turn this round.
A good canonical post on the passive would probably be as long and complex as StoneyB's canonical canonical post on the prefect in English. Maybe longer. The best thing about StoneyB's canonical post is that it is a long in-depth and well explained resource for learners. However, it is not concise. It isn't necessarily the easiest document for a learner to read. It could never be, and shouldn't be - if it's going to fulfill its role. Happily, the canonical post co-exists along-side well targeted responses to questions about the perfect - quite often written by Stoney himself. It hasn't turned into a page that questions get linked-to after being blindly closed.
I find it hard to express exactly how much I disagree with Wendi's assertion that 90% of the questions are low effort homework questions - if that is meant to mean that they are questions which if they'd been better developed wouldn't have ended up here on ELL. All due respect to Wendikidd - it's just that I deeply disagree. I've gone through the first page on that list, so 15 questions, and I haven't seen one that is even vaguely a duplicate of another. Indeed they cover such a breadth and range of issues, that I am actually staggered at how involved some of them are. Far from being useless for future readers, they seem to me to be the very bread and butter of what ELL should be about. They don't all show research effort and some of them could have been written better. But the content of the actual questions is exactly what a site like this should be aiming at.
In the post below, I explain a little bit about what kind of things the passive in English involves. I will then offer a dissection of the first fifteen questions on the linked-to list to show how complex and wide-ranging those questions in fact are. It's going to be a long post so I'll do it installments - especially as it's Friday, and I'm going to honour the centuries-old English tradition of finishing off the week with a drink with my colleagues in an ancient London hostelry. Here's the first installment then:
I agree with the sentiment of this question. However, I feel it is misguided. I think there should/could be a canonical post on passives. I don't think it should be there primarily as a resource for enabling us to close questions. There are thousands of books written on the passive. There are also hundreds of research papers written on it every month. It is a hugely complex area, covering all sorts of difficult things such as:
- long passives
- short passives
- passives with DO as Subject
- passives with IO as Subject
- prepositional passives
- passives with Subjects extracted from embedded subordinate clauses
- passives with finite clauses as Subject
- passives within subordinate clauses versus within main clauses
- finite passives
- non-finite passives
- Subjectless non-finite passives
- passives with raising verbs (for example modals)
- passives with control verbs
- the difference between syntactic functions and theta roles
- Subject, versus Object, versus Predicative Complement, versus Goal Complement, versus Locative Complement
Hmmm, maybe I should stop here. No, let's go on for a little bit. After all, we're just beginning to start to get the syntax covered. We'll move onto semantics in a little while, then some discourse pragmatics, then linguistic constraints on information packaging (which is what passives are all about). I am sure there's some other big areas that need to be covered, but I can't afford to think about those right now, I'm just starting to make some inroads into the syntax that needs to be covered. Hold on a moment, where was I? Oh yes, there's also:
- active voice clauses that can't be passivised
- passive voice clauses with no active voice alternative
- verbs which normally occur in passive voice
- verbs which resist being used in passive voice
- ergative get-passives
- causative get-passives
- adjectival get-passives
- have passives /causatives
- passives versus pseudo-passives
- passive versus adjective constructions
- bare passives
- so-called concealed passives (the car needs washing or even the car needs washed)
- nouns with post-modifying passive participles
- impersonal passives
- the internal complement (the by phrase), omission and movement, for example fronting and stranding of the preposition.
OK. I'm going to be late for getting to the pub. I'll put a second installment in soon. I'm not going to bother to try and finish the syntax section, or even try to make a dent in the others. Suffice it to say that the sections on pragmatics and information packaging could be easily twice as long as what's been glanced at here. The next installment will be an investigation of the first page or two of our passive voice questions. Just for kicks I'm also going to add bounties to some of them which haven't had the attention they deserve as I go along.