Sam built the house (active) The house was built by sam (passive)

In the active voice of the sentence, "Sam" is the subject, clear and simple. In the passive construction, what is then the function of the prepositional phrase "by Sam"? I read that "by sam" in the passive construct functions as an adverbial. My understanding is that adverbs/abverbials provide information about the verb, specifically time (when), place (where), manner (how), degree (to what extent), condition, reason (why/purpose). If "by sam" is an adverbial, then what is it telling me about the verb (i.e. which adverb category (when, why, how, etc) does it fall under? It seems to be stating "who" built the house, but "who" is not a category within the definition of an adverb. If "by Sam" in this sentence is not an adverbial, what is its function in the sentence?

  • I'm no grammarian, so pardon my ignorance if this is a stupid suggestion; but is the "by Sam" component not simply the object? – 568ml Jul 8 '14 at 7:23
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    In the passive version, 'by Sam' (if one chooses to include it) is certainly adding information about the action / process indicated by the verb, ie is adverbial. If one insists that all adverb(ial)s can be slotted conveniently into say the six semantic groups listed here, one would have to extend the usual notion of 'manner' to include it. It's best to label 'Sam' as the agent in both cases. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 8 '14 at 8:22
  • It tells the action performed "by whom," -- therefore adverbial. – Kris Jul 8 '14 at 10:17

How was the house built?

  • quickly
  • as if by magic
  • in a workmanlike manner
  • with indoor plumbing
  • with love
  • by machine
  • by hand
  • by elves
  • by Sam

As @Edwin Ashworth indicates in his comment, the categorizations of adverbial types is a bit restrictive. The grouping manner is a catchall for a wide range of characteristics.

  • ... which you illustrate nicely. We'll be naming these sub-categories next. Though whether 'as if by magic' can be said to truly 'modify' the verb it obviously relates to is arguable. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 8 '14 at 11:57
  • @EdwinAshworth My first inclination was simply by magic, but the longer phrase surely answers the question how. – bib Jul 8 '14 at 12:05
  • The examples are very helpful, thanks. So in this case, I should think of "by whom" and the "agent" as a form of "how"? What does the grouping "manner" actually include? Could you please provide more examples of other characteristics that manner would encompass? – via Jul 8 '14 at 12:41
  • The problem is that manner is an artificial construct to help people sort out syntax (structure), and there is no definitive list. As @EdwinAshworth suggest, it is often useful to think about semantics (meaning) instead. Agency refers to meaning, identifying the actor, not necessarily where it occurs in the sentence or a parsing tree (diagram of the structure of a sentence). – bib Jul 8 '14 at 12:54

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