Could someone please tell me which transitive verbs can form notional passives? I only know that they are usually formed with intransitive active verbs.

  • 2
    Think it might help to explain what you mean by "notional passive"? – Neil Coffey Jun 18 '11 at 19:20

A notional passive is an active, normally transitive verb that is used with a passive 'meaning'. It is not an actual passive verb, but it resembles one. In general, there is no limit to which transitive verbs can be used with a notional passive; in many cases, you could apply it to new verbs. It does look informal with verbs that are not commonly used this way.

  • People read this sentence without effort.

  • This sentence is read without effort. — [passive]

  • This sentence reads well. — [active, but notional passive]

It could be defined as a verb that is syntactically active but has its subject in the semantic role of a patient—or any other role normally occupied by the object of the verb when it is active.

  • Crikey. That was an erudite answer! applause – Fattie Jun 18 '11 at 20:44
  • @JoeBlow: Hah, thanks! Actually I had to Google it... – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jun 18 '11 at 20:47
  • Is there any difference between "notional passive" and "ergative"? Sounds a bit of a wishy-washy term unless I'm missing something... – Neil Coffey Jun 18 '11 at 20:50
  • @NeilCofey: I was trying to think of ergative, but it refused to come up. I think at least the terms overlap to a large extent. But frankly I have always found ergative ill chosen, because it is terribly unintuitive. A "working" verb—I'm always forced to look it up. Notational passive is quite clear, by contrast. By the way, I think ergative was invented for other languages than English and is mainly used to describe the ergative case. In other words, I generally wouldn't touch that word with a long pole. But you may be right. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jun 18 '11 at 21:10
  • "ergative" is reasonably common as a term to describe English, though I admit it's an unintuitive word. Maybe something like "passivoid" would have been better. One problem also with the term/notion is that there's sometimes a blurred line between "unaccusative" and "ergative". – Neil Coffey Jun 19 '11 at 0:23

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