Note: I'm aware that there is also a site "English learning". I thought a while about whether it would be a better fit there, and eyes quickly glancing over some passages of this text might think that. But I have doubts. I know how to use that aspect of the language, I don't need to learn it. I rather want to dive a little deeper, perhaps, and have a suspicion that the average native speaker who might easily help on the learners' site might not precisely know about this subject. It might rather be "language enthusiasts" thinking about this kind of topic, and apparently, that's what this site is for?

So - What do I mean, by sentences like "The window does not open."?

I mean sentences that seem to be indicating that the noun was somehow active, even though it is factually a passive object that something needs to be done to by someone or something else.

Well, at least that's what I, native speaker of a related language that does not have this (German), think when seeing/hearing something like that.

Another example: Think of a text file which contains program code of a programming language. The code has a syntax error somewhere. You try to run the program code, but the interpreter indicates the error. A native speaker might say: "The source file did not parse".

This seems extremely odd to me. I can only speak for myself, but I would guess the same for many other native German speakers. (maybe less so for the youngest generations who started to learn English at earlier ages) We would never say this. Rather, it would be: "The window cannot be opened" or "The window is not openable" and "The source file could not be parsed" or "The intepreter failed to parse the source file", clearly indicating the factually passive object as a thing that something is done to (or not). Wheras "the window does (not) open" makes it seem as though the window was something that, potentially, does things by itself. (let's restrict this to classical windows, not windows in maybe Elon Musk's home ;)) Even more obvious is the source file, which most certainly does not do things by itself, like parse.

It's as though someone said, to indicate the location of certain information within a given book: "The information finds on page 42" instead of "The information can be found on page 42". If I'm not mistaken, this would seem weird to a native speaker of English, too; i.e. it is not common to say / wrong.

What do native English speakers actually think when hearing or uttering such a sentence? Does it feel to you like those objects were active things? Or is there maybe some example that would clearly show that these sentences do not indicate activity on the part of the objects / some way to show me I fell into a trap of thought by the language conventions / expectations I'm used to?

  • It suggests that “the window is blocked” to me.
    – user 66974
    May 28, 2020 at 19:10
  • Some verbs have what is sometimes known as a middle usage, to be contrasted with the passive: I cooked the lamb / The lamb was cooked in a hot oven / Lamb cooks best in a hot oven. Some don't. Some do in certain contexts (This pie eats well / *This pie eats rapidly.) There is a related usage, considered separate by some: Chocalate melts easily (middle) / The chocolate in the pan soon melted (one-off; ergative). May 28, 2020 at 19:11
  • This is like a question that asks what your opinion of transitive verbs is: yes, transitive verbs exist but the exact answer depends on the verb. The type of verb you are asking about is sometimes called a mediopassive verb. This could be a duplicate: english.stackexchange.com/q/236412/191178
    – Laurel
    May 28, 2020 at 19:19
  • Ah, I was not aware of "mediopassive", it seems indeed to be a duplicate question then, sorry. May 28, 2020 at 19:58


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