English Grammar

Miscellaneous

by Eugene R. Moutoux

1. On this page you will find bits and pieces that have may slipped through the cracks. Here also you will examine some of the problems and limitations of traditional grammar.

2. A few transitive verbs, such as lack (They lacked expertise), fit (The sweater fits me), fail (The system failed her), become (That outfit becomes you), resemble (She resembles her mother), suit (Nothing suits him), and even have (He has a cold) are unable to be used passively. Try it. Expertise was lacked by them, I am fit by the sweater, She was failed by the system, etc. This isn’t English as we know it. We have to say either that these verbs are not transitive (and it seems obvious that they are) or that the language really could accommodate them in the passive voice but just doesn’t. I could get used to Expertise was lacked by them, She was failed by the system, and one or two more. But You are become by that outfit and Her mother is resembled by her? No way! I think we just have to accept that not all transitive verbs can be used in the passive voice. What seems at first to be an ironclad rule has exceptions. Some grammarians--the few who bother at all--call these exceptional verbs "midverbs" or "middle verbs."

* * * * *

3. The passive expression to be supposed to does not have a corresponding active form. Since You are supposed to work hard is approximately equivalent to You should work hard, to work would seem to be best construed as a complementary infinitive.

* * * * *

4. Occasionally, a verb and a preposition share an object, as in the sentence She grew up with and later married the future king.

* * * * *

5. As is a relative pronoun after the adjective same. Example: That play is the same as they used earlier to score a touchdown.

* * * * *

6. Whoever, whichever, whatever, etc, as well as however, whenever, and wherever, can introduce elliptical concessive clauses whose expanded forms are introduced by the subordinating conjunction although. Example: However bright you are, you still need a dictionary, which is more or less equivalent to Although you are as bright as you may be, you still need a dictionary.

* * * * *

7. The verb look is usually intransitive. If someone says Look who’s coming, neither What should I look? or Whom should I look? is an appropriate response because the noun clause who’s coming is not the direct object of look. But what is it? It seems best to construe Look who’s coming as elliptical, short for Look and see who’s coming. Now who’s coming is the direct object of see, which is acceptable. Here is a sentence that uses look transitively: He looked his opponent into a corner. Opponent is the direct object of looked.

* * * * *

8. In the expression many a time, how is many a to be construed? Can many (a plural adjective) modify time (a singular noun)? The best answer would seem to be that it cannot, that many a is a phrasal modifier. But what if a precedes many as in a great many or a good many? In that case, it seems best to think of a as a modifier of the pronoun many, just as a modifies few in the expression a few. In numbers like a hundred and a thousand, a simply means "one" and modifies the nouns hundred and thousand. Like many a, the expressions what a and quite a also seem to be phrasal modifiers. In how great an undertaking, how modifies great, and both great and an modify undertaking.

* * * * *

9. What do we call the objectless particles that remain when the objects of prepositions in active sentences become subjects in corresponding passive sentences? Here is an example: The active sentence What were they looking at?, in which what is the object of the preposition at, becomes the passive sentence What was being looked at?, in which what is the subject of the sentence and at is left to hang at the end. Here are three more examples of similar passive sentences:

- That’s nothing to be sneezed at. The problem was being dealt with. The house was not being lived in.

The best solution would seem to be to construe look at, sneeze at, deal with, live in, etc. as phrasal verbs when they are used in the passive voice.

- from the teacher's enlarged edition of my book Diagramming Step by Step: One Hundred and Fifty-one Steps to Diagramming Excellence

Sentence Diagrams, main page
German-Latin-English, my home page
English Grammar