Historicist critics are inclined, even now, towards the explanation that Melville is Bartleby himself.

Could you please explain to me why there is passive voice used in the sentence above? Can I say?

Historicist critics incline, even now, towards the explanation that Melville is Bartleby himself.

  • It's just that idiomatically we're inclined to use the passive in such contexts. I could say idiomatically we incline to use the passive, but in practice that's a bit unusual - we tend to use a different verb if we're going to use the "active" voice. Thus "I'm inclined to believe him" is much more common than "I incline to believe him". – FumbleFingers Sep 23 '14 at 12:55
  • 2
    I don't think this is passive. 'inclined' is an adjective. No one else is 'inclining' the critics. – Mitch Sep 23 '14 at 12:57
  • How does the present tense reflect the fact that they were inclined earlier? "Even now" would be rather ambiguous in that case. The past tense is required. – Kris Sep 23 '14 at 13:12

The person you quoted is in a sense "hedging his or her bets," so to speak. Instead of coming right out and saying,

"All critics agree that Melville is Bartleby,"

s/he softens the declarative sentence with the use of the word historicist (since I assume there are critics who are not historicists) and with the passive mode, so as not to be accused of being dogmatic or being unaware there are dissenting, non-historicist critics who believe firmly that Melville is not Bartleby.

Evidently, if what the writer is saying (and how he says it) is true, then perhaps the use of the passive mode is a safe "bet."

Here's an illustration of a little bet hedging of my own. Instead of saying

"Historians believe Obama's presidency is feckless in many crucial areas of public policy,"

I say

"Historicists are inclined, even now, towards the explanation that Barack Obama's presidency is perceived by many as feckless in many crucial arenas of public policy."

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