Static and dynamic passive forms

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Quintus
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Static and dynamic passive forms

Postby Quintus » Mon Oct 03, 2011 9:46 am

Two quick questions.

1.
As far I know, the auxiliary verb for the static passive form is "to be":
"The window is closed"
and the auxiliary verb for the dynamic passive form should be "to get":
"The window gets closed"
However I read that for some speakers this is not accepted and is considered colloquial. Does that mean that both the static and dynamic passive forms should use the same auxiliary "to be"?

2.
The verb "venire" (to came) is the auxiliary that the Italian language uses for the dynamic passive form:
"La porta viene chiusa"
Is "to come" usable also in English in place of "to get" for the dynamic passive form? Eg.
"The door comes closed"

Thanks,
Franco

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Postby Geoff » Tue Oct 04, 2011 1:27 am

I will take the second question first Franco.

No, you would never say "The window comes closed". You could, however, say "The window becomes closed".

Get probably is somewhat colloquial and "The window becomes closed" is arguably better than "The window gets closed" in formal writing but most people would, I think, use get in normal speech. It is debatable though and I am sure there will be contradictory opinions. One thing that is definite is that you would not use the verb "to be".

Cheers,
Geoff

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Postby Quintus » Tue Oct 04, 2011 1:19 pm

Thank you Geoff!

Saluti,
Franco

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Postby calum » Tue Oct 04, 2011 3:39 pm

Geoff wrote:I will take the second question first Franco.

No, you would never say "The window comes closed". You could, however, say "The window becomes closed".


Would you really say that?
I'd reserve 'becomes' for changes in appearance or emotion: "My wife becomes stubborn when I suggest we should go to France on holiday."

"Books become worn when they are handled badly" sounds far better than "Books get worn when they are handled badly" although the meaning would still be easily understood.

Get probably is somewhat colloquial and "The window becomes closed" is arguably better than "The window gets closed" in formal writing but most people would, I think, use get in normal speech. It is debatable though and I am sure there will be contradictory opinions. One thing that is definite is that you would not use the verb "to be".


Here comes a contradictory opinion!

Let's take the example of a public park. You wouldn't place a sign at the entrance saying "The gates become closed at 8pm". Replacing become with get would render it more understandable but sounds clumsy. In this example I suggest that the best option is to use the verb 'to be' to give the following sentence: "The gates are closed at 8pm."

regards,
Calum

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Postby Quintus » Tue Oct 04, 2011 5:40 pm

Hello Calum,

"The gates are closed at 8pm." has enough context to let one understand that this passive form is dynamic, at least in my opinion. But I was referring to a case like this:

A.
"I turned my head towards the house and looked at the window. But it was closed"

In my intentions, this sentence might mean that:

A1.
"I was trying to see what was happening in the room behind the window. But I couldn't do that, because the window had been already closed (no matter by who or when) before I turned my head towards the house"

or

A2.
"I was trying to see what was happening in the room behind the window. But I couldn't do that, because someone in the room closed the window just in the very moment I was turning my head towards the house"

In my opinion, the ambiguity is generated by the sentence A because it is poorly/incorrectly constructed. In other words, it seems to me that the distinction between the static and dynamic passive forms must base on the context or other elements rather than the use of a different auxiliary, although sometimes different auxiliaries are actually used.

In Italian, A1 would be rendered by an imperfect tense:
"Girai la testa verso la casa e guardai la finestra. Ma era chiusa"
Era indicates that the "closure state" of the window started in a indefinite past, preceding my looking at it, and lasted a indefinite amount of time. That is, it describes a continuous action or state in the past.

A2 would be rendered by a simple past tense:
"Girai la testa verso la casa e guardai la finestra. Ma venne (or fu) chiusa"
Fu indicates that the "state" of the window was changed in well defined instant of the past, the one in which I turned my head.

In the end, how should A be reworked so not to generate ambiguity and using as less context as possible?

Grazie,
Franco

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Postby Peter » Tue Oct 04, 2011 6:43 pm

The problem here, Franco, is that to us English there is no ambiguity. You were looking at the house and saw that the window was closed. Full stop. That was the factual state of the window. As to when it was closed, then whether it had been closed for some time, or only just prior to your turning your head, is not important - the window was closed.

I understand where you are coming from, though, and would suggest that to be more precise, you would need to reword the phrase if A2 applied:

"I turned my head towards the house and looked at the window. I noticed someone was closing it."

It then becomes a sort of progressive past - stava chiudendola.

I don't know if this helps or not.
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Postby Geoff » Wed Oct 05, 2011 1:20 am

Hmmm, I would like to revisit my response.

Peter is correct that we would normally say something like "The window is being closed" or "The window was being closed" to describe passively an action in the present or past.

I agree with Calum that "The gates are closed at 8pm" is correct for an action in the future.

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Postby calum » Wed Oct 05, 2011 9:55 am

Quintus wrote:In the end, how should A be reworked so not to generate ambiguity and using as less context as possible?


To convey the idea that when you looked at the window it was, in that very moment, being closed you could rewrite the sentence A2 thus:" "I turned my head towards the house and looked at the window but, just as I did so, it was closed."

This gives the clear distinction that the window was closed at the very moment you looked at it rather than at some undetermined time in the past.

regards,
Calum

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Postby -Luca- » Wed Oct 05, 2011 11:35 am

Ma alla fine, se non è entrato nessuno dalla finestra.....che importa che sia stata chiusa o meno? :)
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Postby Peter » Wed Oct 05, 2011 1:58 pm

-Luca- wrote:Ma alla fine, se non è entrato nessuno dalla finestra.....che importa che sia stata chiusa o meno? :)


Niente... ma non è (come penso tu sappia molto bene, Luca!! :)), il punto in questione. Ciò che Franco ha scritto effettivamente ci ha fatto noi di lingua inglese pensare della costruzione della frase, che altrimenti è qualcosa che diamo in scontato. Secondo me, è quello che fa interessante questa sezione del forum. Imparare italiano mi ha aiutato capire meglio la mia madrelingua, e per questo sono molto grato. :D :D
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Postby Davide » Wed Oct 05, 2011 2:53 pm

I agree with Peter here. There is simply no way one can avoid the ambiguity here because the only construction available is 'the window was closed'. To a native English speaker this would quite clearly imply that the window was in the state of being closed AT THE TIME THE OBSERVER LOOKED. It makes no reference to WHEN in time the window was closed. You could make it clearer that the window was closed at some point BEFORE you looked by saying 'the window HAD BEEN closed. The use of the pluperfect 'had been' implies an action carried by an agent prior to my making the observation. However, the ambiguity cannot be totally resolved - we simply have no way of making the sort of distinction in the same way you can in Italian.
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Postby Peter » Wed Oct 05, 2011 3:38 pm

Bravo, Davide. Well put.
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Postby Quintus » Wed Oct 05, 2011 6:05 pm

Peter wrote:The problem here, Franco, is that to us English there is no ambiguity. You were looking at the house and saw that the window was closed. Full stop. That was the factual state of the window.


Yes, there's no ambiguity in English, Peter. Or, if there's ambiguity in English, then there's the same ambiguity in Italian too.
Your word "factual" was the snap that woke up me from my sleeping. You said: "that was the factual state of the window". If you feel "closed" as describing a factual state (uno stato di fatto), in my opinion that means that:

1. The sentence "But the window was closed" is not passive. It's active: "window" is the subject and "was closed" is the predicate (nominal) which in turn is made up with "was", the copula, and "closed", a predicate adjective. The unique and simplest grammatical objects entitled to give informations about the factual state of the nouns are the adjectives.
The past participle of many verbs is actually used as an adjective. It is de facto an adjective in a lot of contexts. In other words, "The window was closed" has the same grammatical value as "The window was narrow/large/low/high/red/green" etc.

2. The so said "static passive form" doesn't exist. That concept is wrong and fuorviating. In facts, by definition, a passive form is one having a subject, a verb and an optional agent. Since the verb in a passive form expresses a change happening to the state of the subject, all passive forms are forcedly always dynamic. You can't call them "static": if you do then you are in the case 1, and you're calling passive some forms that are merely active.
About the "dynamic passive forms", the adjective "dynamic" is unnecessary, because, as I said, all passive forms are forcedly always dynamic.

So far, in Italian, the situation is exactly identical. In my opinion, we can use the two classic definitions of passive and active form and drop the distinction between "static" and "dynamic". I apologise for having mentioned it, I was engulfed in a fake argument reported in a grammar book.

It may happen, however, that one needs to write a sentence where "the window was closed" has the sense I told about in A2:
"I was trying to see what was happening in the room behind the window. But I couldn't do that, because someone in the room closed the window just in the very moment I was turning my head towards the house".
"the windows was closed" is now to be intended as a real passive form: "the windows was closed (by someone)". I need to use a passive form here because I want to convey the idea that the window is being closed (as Calum wrote), that is the state of the window changed (the window became closed, as Geoff wrote) when I looked at it. In this case "the window" is the subject and "was closed" is the verb-only predicate, while the agent is not expressly indicated. Though I can't use the formulation "the windows was closed" because, again, it would be perceived as "I saw that the window was closed. Full stop.", as Peter wrote. If I used it, I'd go back to 1.

The various solutions you all proposed are OK to me. What really matters to me is the fact the something must be changed in the context to have the concept rendered correctly, and this something is not necessarily the change of the auxiliary "to be" into something else.

Moreover, please note that in the passive form "the windows was closed (by someone)", the verb-only predicate "was closed" is formed by the auxiliary "was" and the past particle "closed". But if you consider the so-said equivalent sentence "the window got/became closed" I think you would agree that this sentence is not passive at all. So, how can we talk of "a change of auxiliary"? The two sentences are different, the former is passive and has an auxiliary, the latter is active and has no auxiliary:

The window - subject
became/got closed - predicate, made up with "became/got" (verb in active form, not an auxiliary) + closed (predicate adjective)

Don't know if you agree with me on this update of mine. Of course I may be influenced by the way we perform the grammatical analysis. But I'm prone to think that, exception made for a different terminology, it should hold also in English.

Thank you very much to you all for the time you dedicated.

Franco

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Postby Quintus » Wed Oct 05, 2011 6:09 pm

-Luca- wrote:Ma alla fine, se non è entrato nessuno dalla finestra.....che importa che sia stata chiusa o meno? :)

Nice idea Luca! I tried it out in the practice and left doors and windows open. My house is empty now. So my question is, do you have some old furniture for me? If you haven't a bed, don't worry, you can send me yours. :D :D :D

Ciao,
Franco
Last edited by Quintus on Wed Oct 05, 2011 7:03 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Quintus » Wed Oct 05, 2011 7:01 pm

Davide wrote:I agree with Peter here. There is simply no way one can avoid the ambiguity here because the only construction available is 'the window was closed'. To a native English speaker this would quite clearly imply that the window was in the state of being closed AT THE TIME THE OBSERVER LOOKED. It makes no reference to WHEN in time the window was closed. You could make it clearer that the window was closed at some point BEFORE you looked by saying 'the window HAD BEEN closed. The use of the pluperfect 'had been' implies an action carried by an agent prior to my making the observation. However, the ambiguity cannot be totally resolved - we simply have no way of making the sort of distinction in the same way you can in Italian.

Please Davide, have a look at my updated post to Peter.
The distinction is possible in Italian only when the sentence involves a past tence, "la finestra era chiusa" (active form: subject, verb, adjective. Isn't it the same as in English?) indicates a state: the window was closed at some point before I looked and it was still closed when I looked.
"la finestra fu chiusa" (passive form: subject, verb-only predicate) indicates that the windows was closed just when I looked.

But if you consider the present tense, the situation is identical either in English and Italian.
There's no way to perceive "La finestra è chiusa" as a passive form. It simply means that the window is closed. And "closed" is an adjective here. So someone thought to introduce the concept of "dynamic passive form": "la finestra viene chiusa", "the window gets/becomes closed", which, IMO aren't passive forms. This can be easily demonstrated using "the window becomes closed" (la finestra diviene/diventa chiusa): "becomes" is a active voice and "closed" is an adjective. It's not part of the verb, if not as a predicate.

That's the reason why I started considering that concept fake.

Saluti,
Franco


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