A paper titled "Three Types of English Pseudo-passives" has these examples (p8):

(31) a. *Seoul was walked around by his father.

b. Seoul can be walked around in a day.

(32) a. *The hotel was stayed in by my sister.

b. The hotel can be stayed in by foreigners.

The paper explains these examples as follows:

Walking around Seoul in a day and staying in the hotel both can characterize the general or characteristic property of Seoul and the hotel. However, if these actions are performed by a particular individual such as his father or sister, they cannot represent the general properties of the subject referent.

I wonder why the writer focuses on the agents in (a) examples being particular individuals. Isn't it the use of modals such as 'can' that allows (b) examples?

For example, aren't these (c) examples possible?

(31) c. Seoul can be walked around by his father.

(32) c. The hotel can be stayed in by my sister.

  • Somewhat related: Passive voice of “Stay” – herisson Jul 16 '19 at 7:14
  • I think the point here is that neither Seoul nor the hotel were affected by the father's walking or the sister's staying. Hence the sentences, which refer to specific incidents, are regarded as ungrammatical . By contrast, the sentences with modal can describe characteristics of Seoul and the hotel, and thus license the passive. I see nothing wrong with your (c) sentences. But as the discussion under the answer shows, what is grammatical to one native speaker may be problematic (or infelicitous as the CGEL p1433 says in this context) to another. – Shoe Jul 17 '19 at 16:30
  • @Shoe Thanks. Good to know. – JK2 Jul 18 '19 at 11:33
  • Possible duplicate of Is it correct that only transitive verbs can have passive form?: 'A lot of intransitive verbs can become effectively transitive with the addition of a preposition, like see/look at or hear/listen to: Everyone heard the concert. --- Everyone listened to the concert. --- The concert was heard/listened to by everyone. But Passive isn't limited to these prepositional transitives; any ... – Edwin Ashworth Aug 15 '19 at 18:33
  • preposition can work, provided it refers to a significant effect produced in the noun phrase. Then Passive can work. So, for instance, the first sentence below is grammatical, but the second isn't. This bed was slept in by George Washington. // *This garden was coughed in by Harry Smith.' [@John Lawler] [bolding mine] – Edwin Ashworth Aug 15 '19 at 18:34

I don't think it's just a matter of modals allowing a (pseudo)passive construction. I don't know of any theoretical reason why modals would be expected to have such an effect, and I would not classify 31c) or 32c) as acceptable sentences.

(It's harder for me to say whether they are "possible", because they are "possible" in a certain sense: e.g. I might come up with 31c) if I was forced to provide a passive version of "His father can walk around Seoul". But I think I likewise might produce 31a) if I was forced to provide a passive version of "His father walked around Seoul.")

32b) actually doesn't sound very acceptable to me to begin with, but "The hotel was stayed in by foreigners" doesn't sound much worse, whereas your 32c) "The hotel can be stayed in by my sister" definitely sounds more unnatural/unacceptable to me than either.

Likewise, "walked around" sounds as acceptable to me in the following sentences (taken from the web) as it does in 31b) (that is, it sounds like fairly awkward wording in all of these sentences):

  • By faith, the walls of Jericho fell, after it was walked around for seven days.

    –"Aramaic Bible in Plain English" (a translation, of course, but the translator presumably wasn't aiming to produce an outright unacceptable or ungrammatical sentence.)

  • This lake was treated in 1954 and planted with rainbow trout in 1955. The lake was walked around completely and no fish were observed from shore, although a number were seen jumping for flies. One 6" rainbow trout was found dead (winter kill?). It appeared to be in good condition.

    –the first of three paragraphs in the one-page "File Note: Woods Lake, Alpine County." July 25, 1956. From California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Data Portal.

Your 31c) "Seoul can be walked around by his father" doesn't sound much, if at all, better to me than 31a) "Seoul was walked around by his father." I'd say both sound less acceptable than the examples above with "walked around".

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  • Thanks for letting me know how you don't necessarily agree with the paper's assessment of the examples. But the invalidity of (a) examples and the validity of (b) examples have never been questioned in other papers that cite these specific examples. So I think I'd need more evidence (than your own assessment) before I dismiss the paper's assessment of the examples. Since your assessment is not in line with that of the paper, I'd also need more evidence that (c) examples are as impossible as (a) examples. – JK2 Jul 16 '19 at 8:15
  • As for your two examples that you have cited, I find the first one acceptable because the "walking around" did affect the city whose walls fell down. God's people had faith, and when they had walked around the city of Jericho for seven days, its walls fell down. But I couldn't find your second example on the Internet, so I can't figure out the context in which the passive was used. – JK2 Jul 16 '19 at 8:21
  • @JK2: The second citation is from a PDF document for which I only have a download link: nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=51074 It isn't very long. – herisson Jul 16 '19 at 8:24
  • The link doesn't seem to work. – JK2 Jul 16 '19 at 8:32
  • Given the limited context, I suppose that the "walking around" in your second example doesn't merely refer to the act of walking around the lake but to the purposeful act of observing the lake for its fish population possibly followed by treating it by planting some kinds of fish such as rainbow trout, which does have some effect on the lake. Without such context, I'd find The lake was walked around completely ungrammatical. – JK2 Jul 16 '19 at 8:53

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