Is it correct to write or say for example that

As it reads on the first page of the book, ...

or only the following sentences are acceptable?

As it can be read on the first page of the book, ...

As one can read it on the first page of the book, ...

(Maybe i'm mixing up English with some other language in which the verb read can be used like this or I don't know... Though this usage of "read" sounds quite strange to me but as if I've already heard or seen it somewhere, and also the Google seems to give some results on that, so that's why I'm asking.)

  • The tragic events exposed by the news story reads like a story book. Mar 30 '15 at 2:53
  • Note that though one can describe a text as though it is reading itself (like all your examples), and the personification can go far as to say "The first part of the book said...", the impression one gets from the literal phrase "The text read itself..." is very wrong. That is, to actually use 'itself' is not idiomatic in English;
    – Mitch
    Mar 30 '15 at 14:09

A text can ‘read itself’, yes. As others have pointed out, read can be either active or mediopassive (which maps roughly, but not exactly, to transitive and intransitive uses). But if it used mediopassively, the text that ‘reads itself’ has to be the actual subject; otherwise, you would use say instead of read.

In your example, the subject it is a kind of dummy subject, which is a grammatical category that has quite a limited scope. In the case of read, a semantic subject is always required; but say can be used with either a semantic subject or a dummy subject. Thus, the following are all grammatical:

As the first page of the book says, … [semantic subject + say]
As it says on the first page of the book, … [dummy subject + say]
As the first page of the book reads, … [semantic subject + read]

– but this does not work:

*As it reads on the first page of the book, … [dummy subject + read]

There is moreover a semantic difference between the active and the mediopassive meanings of read. The mediopassive use generally does not focus on the content of the text reading itself, but the manner in which the text reads itself (see also Centaurus’ definitions of the two meanings). So even though “As the first page of the book reads, …” is grammatically all right, it is not something you’d be likely to hear, because the sentence is supposed to deal with what is actually written on the first page of the book, rather than how the experience or result of reading the first page of the book is.1

The mediopassive use of read is nearly always followed by an adverb or adjective that describes the effect that reading the text has (‘well’, ‘different’, ‘complicated’, ‘mellifluously’, etc.), or occasionally an object that is nearly always a direct quote (as in Centaurus’ example). So with a bit of modification, your example could be fine:

As the first page of the book reads so well, you might expect the rest of the book to be brilliant. Sadly, after just a few pages, the quality plummets, and the rest of the book is pure, unfiltered garbage.

But in your specific context, it would be much more natural to use the verb say or even the more formal passive construction be stated instead:

As it says on the first page of the book, marzipan is vile.
As (it) is stated on the first page of the book, marzipan is vile.

1 The ambiguity is of course also possible because as has two slightly different meanings here. In “as it says on…”, it basically means “in the same way as it says on…”; whereas in “as the text reads”, it means “how the texts reads”, more or less. The two meanings are very close to each other, but there is a difference in nuance.

  • Thank you for this comprehensive answer, it is interesting what you're saying and if it's right then I have to rephrase some of my sentences. Could you please provide some reference that supports this difference between "read" and "say"? Unfortunately I couldn't find any. And one more thing: Does it sound right this way: "As reads on the first page of the book, ..." Or you can't just simply omit "it", can you? (I think it might be correct because of a sentence one can hear often: "As has already been mentioned, ...")
    – tom
    Mar 30 '15 at 12:19
  • 1
    I’m afraid I know of no sources—this is simply me rationalising what I instinctively know to be idiomatic and non-idiomatic. I suspect CGEL probably mentions it somewhere; but I cannot verify, since I don’t have a copy (a most grievous offence, I know). “As reads on…” does not work either (nor does “As says on…”). The dummy it seems only omissible here when the verb is in a perfect construction, likely with several other constraints as well. Mar 30 '15 at 12:41
  • Let me rephrase that: I’m not sure exactly what the constraints to the deletion of dummy it are, but I cannot think of any examples where it can be done with a finite main verb. It can be done with (some types of?) finite auxiliaries (“as has been mentioned”, “as is stated”) and with the semantically empty copula with certain adjectives (“as is obvious/clear/well-known/etc.”); but not with the copula before an unmodified noun (“*as is a fact”, but “as is a well-known fact” is fine). CGEL probably has something to say about this as well (I really need that book). Mar 30 '15 at 13:00

"read" can be both transitive and intransitive and, depending on context, can have several meanings. MW - To answer you question in a more didatical way, I've selected the two meanings that seem to be confusing you:

to look at and understand the meaning of letters, words, symbols, etc.

  • I can't read what you have written. (transitive verb)
  • I like to read the papers in the afternoon. (transitive verb)
  • Read it aloud! (transitive verb)
  • I read about the accident yesterday. (intransitive verb)

to consist of specific words, phrases, or other similar elements

  • Your edition reads different from mine. (intransitive verb)
  • Tell her what I've written, exactly as it reads. (intransitive verb)
  • Stop where it reads "she fainted". (transitive verb)
  • @oerkelens: He is saying it can be both. I find nothing objectionable in the sentence.
    – Robusto
    Mar 30 '15 at 11:13
  • @oerkelens: See Janus's answer elsewhere on this page. He has hit it right, I believe.
    – Robusto
    Mar 30 '15 at 12:09
  • @Centaurus should it be differently?
    – Tim
    Mar 30 '15 at 12:20
  • @Tim "different" is both an adjective and an adverb.
    – Centaurus
    Mar 30 '15 at 12:23
  • @oerkelens Thank you for pointing out those flaws.
    – Centaurus
    Mar 30 '15 at 12:43

Constructions such as

The book reads well.

are classic examples of the mediopassive voice in English.

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