A peeve for the ages

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The image on the right reproduces a brief passage from a letter that Robert Southey wrote to his friend Grosvenor C. Bedford, on October 1, 1795. (Click on the image for a larger version, as usual.)

Read it, and see if you can figure out what aspect of it Richard Grant White in 1869 called the worst of "those intruders in language … which, about seventy or eighty years ago, began to affront the eye, torment the ear, and assault the common sense of the speaker of plain and idiomatic English".

Give up?

It was the progressive passive, and White responded to it just

… like a fellow whose uttermost upper grinder is being torn out by the roots …

Even in 1869, White was forced to admit that this construction "seem[s] to many persons [to be] of established respectability"; and today, it's hard for most people to grasp that there was ever a problem with it at all.

But it's true that the progressive passive first appeared in the English language in the second half of the 18th century, replacing what historians of English grammar call the passival.

All of this came up in a marvelous invited talk at the recent LSA annual meeting: Joan Maling on the topic "Nothing personal?  The emergence of a new syntactic construction in Icelandic". I'll have more to say about Joan's work on Icelandic, but I thought the English passival-to-progressive-passive evolution — and Richard Grant White's epic peeve in response — was worth a post of its own.

The relationship among the relevant set of forms can be seen in this list from Platt and Denison, "The language of the Southey-Coleridge Circle", Language Sciences 2000:

An example of the passival, in an 1807 letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra:

Our garden is putting in order, by a Man who bears a remarkably good Character, has a very fine complexion & asks something less than the first.

And here's one in a passage from Northanger Abbey:

The bustle of going was not pleasant. — The clock struck ten while the trunks were carrying down, and the General had fixed to be out of Milsom-street by that hour.

And finally, for all you connoisseurs of fine whines, the full text of Richard Grant White's "Is Being Done", The Galaxy, 1869:



65 Comments

  1. Faldone said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 9:58 am

    If anyone were so bold as to use the passival today, they would pelted with the pellets from the newly acquired pets of thousands of hapless peeve owners.

  2. Gareth Rees said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 10:07 am

    That's a truly awesome peeve! He explains clearly the impetus for the construction (the bare passival, without the "a-", is often ambiguous), recognizes that "is being done" is a regular formation from "to be done", and still complains about it in apocalyptic terms.

  3. Z. D. Smith said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 10:13 am

    I fear that just now that I have found out about the passival, I will be forced (will forced?) to use it in all occasions.

  4. SimonMH said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 10:26 am

    White's moan is reading with a wry smile

  5. Xmun said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 10:27 am

    Faldone and Z. D. Smith are not using the passival properly. You use the present participle, not the past. Note the verb forms in Liberman's examples a and c: they are identical. It's just their meanings that are different.
    We have talked about this use before, but I didn't know until now that it had a name: the "passival". Search for "a-building" and see what you get.

  6. Dan T. said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 10:36 am

    If you say "the tooth was pulling out", it gives an impression of the tooth somehow pulling itself out, without requiring a person to initiate the process. (And did barbers really do dentistry in those days?)

    [(myl) Yes.]

  7. Faldone said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    My "use of the passival" was actually a thinko. There should have been a "be' in there.

  8. John Cowan said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 10:49 am

    I note that White defends the identity of the gerund-participle (though he uses verbal noun rather than gerund) in the best modern Huddleston & Pullum terms. As Law does not oppose Despite, so Learning does not oppose Peevery.

  9. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 10:59 am

    Some odd passives are still found in commerce (You order will ship today) and librarianship (Just the other day: That [book] shelves under biography).

    I've forgotten anything I ever knew about the Greek aorist forms, but Scandinavian has "deponent" passive forms that express a range of non-passive ideas, like repeated or habitual action. Is that where the Icelandic connection comes from?

    [(myl) I'll (eventually) cover the Icelandic developments in subsequent posts. The basic phenomenon involved is this (from Joan Maling's talk):

    Traditional Active:
    Hún bað mig að vaska upp.
    she-NOM asked me-ACC to wash up
    ‘She asked me to do the dishes’

    Traditional Passive:
    Ég var beðinn að vaska upp.
    I-NOM was asked-masc.sg. to wash up
    ‘I was asked to do the dishes’

    "New Passive" or "New Impersonal":
    Það var beðið mig að vaska upp
    it-EXPL was asked me-ACC to wash up
    literally: “it was asked me to do the dishes”
    intended: “I was asked to do the dishes” or “they asked me to do the dishes”

    This new construction has apparently come into existence within the past 50 years, and is still not accepted by older Icelanders -- in a 1999 survey, 93% of surveyed adults found the new construction "completely unacceptable", while 73% of surveyed adolescents found it "completely acceptable".]

  10. Tom S. Fox said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 11:21 am

    I had my money on “very identical”, because prescriptionists don’t like it when you use “very” to modify an absolute adjective such as “identical.” Two things are either identical, or they are not.

    [(myl) I think that this is the sense of very that the OED glosses as "Denoting and emphasizing absolute identity or difference, esp. with same or opposite", as in "the very man I was thinking of", or "the very same day".

    I doubt that White would have objected to this, since it's common in Shakespeare, e.g.

    What's in the brain that ink may character
    Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit?
    What's new to speak, what new to register,
    That may express my love or thy dear merit?
    Nothing, sweet boy; but yet, like prayers divine,
    I must, each day say o'er the very same,
    Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,
    Even as when first I hallow'd thy fair name.

    I should clarify, I guess, that White did not cite Southey's letter in particular. I used that example because it's a standard early citation for the progressive passive, and its date corresponds closely to White's estimate of the period when the construction began to be used.]

  11. cameron said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

    To Dan Lufkin's question about the Icelandic connection: I don't have any knowledge of the details of the talk by Joan Maling referred to above, but Icelandic has a middle voice for some verbs (some prefer to characterize these as a distinct class of verbs rather than as a voice, because not all verbs can be used in the middle voice).

    I wouldn't be surprised if Maling's work refers to some change in usage relating to the verbs that have traditionally been referred to as the middle voice.

  12. empty said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 12:31 pm

    Another passive construction jarring to modern ears is found in Patrick O'Brian's historical novels of the period, but not IIRC in Austen: a sort of double passive, as in "It cannot be attempted to be believed." The oddity has to do with the fact that when X attempts to believe Y we don't say that Y attempts to be believed by X.

  13. John Lawler said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

    English does have a construction often called "middle" in which the usual object of a verb is promoted to subject without benefit of Passive, as in
      That book is selling/*buying well.
    As the asterisk suggests, it's governed by the predicate, and most predicates don't work well. An adverb like well or easily is common, though not obligatory; and of course the construction is not restricted to the progressive:
      That book sold/*bought well.

  14. Nathan said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

    Not trying to hijack this off topic, but what sort of a construction is being used for the verb show when a customer service representative says, "I'm showing that you made a payment on the tenth."?

  15. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

    The middle construction cited by John Lawler and some previous commenters corresponds to what would be a reflexive one in those IE languages that have kept the simple reflexive "s-" pronouns (lost in English probably under Celtic influence): das Buch verkauft sich gut, el libro se vende bien, книга продается хорошо.

    The loss of "s-" pronouns has also led to many English transitive verbs doubling as reflexives, like wash (sich waschen, lavarse, мыться) something that many English-learners have a hard time with.

    I don't agree with John Cowan that White "defends the identity of the gerund-participle"; he only states the obvious fact that they have the same form, but as I read him he keeps their functions distinct.

  16. jc said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

    (myl) wrote: "… its date corresponds closely to White's estimate of the period when the construction began to be used."

    Funny; I'd probably have ended that with "when the construction was beginning to be used." I wonder if the same people who peeved at the progressive+passive would have also found such a (past) progressive+infinitive equally objectionable.

    Of course, "began" and "was beginning" have very slightly different meanings, at least in my (American West Coast) native dialect, with "was beginning" implying what's often called ramping up nowadays, while just "began" implies a start at a specific date.

  17. chris said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    Not trying to hijack this off topic, but what sort of a construction is being used for the verb show when a customer service representative says, "I'm showing that you made a payment on the tenth."?

    ISTM that this is short for "The records I am looking at show that…" It's normally only necessary to say that over the phone, because in person, the records would be visible to both parties.

    Whether it will eventually become a respectable use of "show", I don't know.

  18. Tom Recht said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    Is it really the case that "a-" was only used with the passival, and not with the progressive – i.e. "His tooth was a-pulling out" but not "The barber was a-pulling out his tooth?"

    (And how is "passival" pronounced, by the way?)

  19. Eric P Smith said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

    Nathan: "I'm showing that you made a payment on the tenth" meaning "My source of information is showing me that you made a payment on the tenth" is precisely the middle voice mentioned in John Lawler's post. Compare "Your dinner is cooking."

  20. GeorgeW said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

    I had never heard the term 'passival' before, but neither has "The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics" (1997).

    I am a little surprised that we don't have some remnants in modern English speech, such as fixed expressions, as it is not that old. Or do we?

  21. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

    @GeorgeW: White seemed to feel that "a storm is brewing" was an example of the passival, and if so, it fits the bill. Merriam-Webster.com gives that as an intransitive sense of brew, "to be in the process of forming", but perhaps that's a modern sense formed by reanalysis?

  22. Bloix said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

    Not trying to hijack this off topic, but what sort of a construction is being used for the verb show when a customer service representative says, "I'm showing that you made a payment on the tenth."?

    Perhaps this is less a verb construction than an extended use of "I" and "we." Such as:

    Where are you parked?
    I'm parked in the lot. (I = my car)

    Where's your office?
    We're at 10th and G. (We = my firm)

    Did you get my payment?
    I'm showing receipt on the 18th. (I = my records)

  23. Bloix said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

    Ran Ari-gur:

    I had the same thought, as in:
    The clothes are drying.
    The meat is cooking.
    The water is running.

  24. GeorgeW said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

    @Ran: Thanks, I am 'gratival,' that example an explanation makes sense. There are likely others that, are opaque to us moderns.

  25. GeorgeW said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

    @Ran and Bloix: These are examples (brewing, cooking, etc.) in which there may not be a human agent like raining, snowing and the like, and unlike the 'tooth is pulling out' example above. However, I not am sure what that means.

  26. John Lawler said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

    @Bloix,GeorgeW,Ran —
    One has to distinguish at least occasionally between inchoative predicates (=become ___), which are naturally intransitive, on the one hand, and causative predicates (=cause NP to (be) ___), which are naturally transitive, on the other. Only transitives can be "middle".
    (BTW, the sogennante "middle" construction is not "the middle voice". "Voice", like "tense", and "mood", is a morphological term, and English has no inflectional voice, unlike Latin and Greek.)
    So, in The water is boiling, we have a normal progressive inchoative, not a "middle". Whereas sell, for instance, can only be transitive. It's a fact about English that the causative form of most inchoative verbs is identical with the inchoative, and therefore the "middle" fades into ordinariness with many predicates. Which is why it's so confusing.

  27. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 3:09 pm

    Bloix: "The clothes are drying" and "the meat is cooking" are more examples of transitive verbs in middle voice replacing what in Old Saxon were probably reflexive (modern German die Wäsche trocknet sich, das Fleisch kocht sich). But with "running" I believe that the intransitive use is older than the transitive (run a business, run some water, run this by me) and is original in this case.

  28. blahedo said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

    @Tom: I'm guessing /pæ 'saj vl/, i.e. long-i, stressed middle, based on pre-20th c pronunciations of e.g. "Maria" as /mǝ 'raj ǝ/—English had not yet re-imported the continental value of /i/.

    @Ran: That was my impression as well, including the bit about reanalysis, but there might be more to it; the only contexts that I've ever run across the a- form are in highly fossilised form but some of them seem impossible to analyse as a passival, e.g. "Froggy went a-courting". (It *does* make great sense of the still-current if register-dependent "a-borning", though.)

  29. Bryn LaFollette said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

    I think I had noticed this passival construction in older writing before but I was never aware of how it was supposed to be parsed (nor was I aware of the term passival). Really fascinating stuff, especially for this being a construction that is, in my English aparatus, not only completely lacking but in fact incomprehensible (or at least liable to be misunderstood) based on my intuitions alone.

    @Eric, Ran, George: My understanding was that all those examples cited are cases of inchoative-anticausative verb forms, which contrast with identical verbs which differ in transitivity of their theta roles.

    Consider:

    1. Your dinner is cooking. – inchoative-anticausitive intransitive
    2. I am cooking your dinner. – active transitive
    3. Your dinner is being cooked (by me). – passive transitive

    I know that (1) would often be given as an equivalent of, say, the Classical Greek Middle Voice, but I didn't think that this is what anyone normally labels this construction in English.

    On a similar note, though, does anyone know how long (1) has had the inchoative-anticausitive interpretation as opposed to the passival interpretation? Maybe I'm mistaken (since I don't have the passival in my ideolect), but would (1) be exactly the same as the passival construction?

    4. Your dinner is (a-)cooking (by me).

  30. Bryn LaFollette said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

    Oops. I see Mr. Lawler has beaten to the point, and more eloquently to boot.

  31. GeorgeW said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

    Professor Lawler & other commenters: Do you think the modern English 'middle' developed from, or is related to, the passival?

  32. Russinoff said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

    Alfred Ayres has a marvelous entry on "Is being built" in "The Verbalist" (the first alphabetized usage dictionary, as far as i know), published in 1881. It goes on for twenty-one pages, recounting the history of the controversy, citing Bullions and White among others who condemned the construction. But most of the article is a reproduction of a response from the other side by Fitzedward Hall. I was surprised to find that Ayres (who disapproved of pretty much everything) sided with Hall, concluding that "The student of English who has honestly weighed the arguments on both sides of the question, must, I believe, be of opinion that our language is the richer for having two forms for expressing the Progressive Passive." The full text of "The Verbalist" can be found at Google Books.

    Faldone: one of the examples of the passival offered by Bullions is "Wheat is selling", which i think (unless you classify it otherwise) demonstrates that it's still with us today.

  33. Faldone said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

    On the pronunciation of passival the OED gives Brit. /paˈsʌɪvl/ , U.S. /pəˈsaɪv(ə)l/

  34. Barrie England said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

    Isn't the passival still sometimes heard in the building trade, at least in Britain? 'There's a new office block building in the centre of the town.' And then we have 'The flight to Amsterdam is boarding at Gate 18.'

  35. Rubrick said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

    I'm not about to adopt the passival, but White's peeve really makes me want to revive fangle as a standalone noun.

  36. Chris said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

    @GeorgeW – I can't say whether it's really a 'relic' of earlier English rather than a relatively recent innovation, but you do find -ing forms with passive interpretation in present-day British English when they're the complement of 'need' (or less standardly 'want').

    E.g.:

    My hair needs cutting.
    You want teaching a lesson.

    This – http://tinyurl.com/5ww59fu – suggests that this construction is indeed a relic from the period when the passival was current.

  37. David Marjanović said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

    White seemed to feel that "a storm is brewing" was an example of the passival

    Looks like another example of the reflexive construction to me, judging from German ein Unwetter braut sich zusammen, literally "a tempest brews itself up".

    modern German die Wäsche trocknet sich, das Fleisch kocht sich

    Nope. Die Wäsche trocknet — German does have verbs that can be transitive and intransitive. (Transitive example: Sonne und Wind trocknen die Wäsche.) Kochen doesn't mean "cook", it means "boil" (again transitive and intransitive) and "prepare in boiling liquid" (transitive only); die Suppe kocht, das Fleisch wird bald fertig… OK, OK, ich koche/brate/… gerade das Fleisch.

    To use reflexive constructions in your examples would mean action. Ergative, if you will. It would mean that the laundry and the meat heat themselves up, cause themselves to heat up, instead of being heated by the sun or the stove.

  38. Diana said,

    January 13, 2011 @ 9:22 pm

    I may begin to use the passival – maybe we can bring it back.

  39. jk said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 12:43 am

    I have a vague recollection of this being discussed elsewhere on this blog, but what about the the construction I hear from some Midwesterners that (even though I am one) sounds quite strange to me: "This table needs fixed," with the expected "to be" omitted?

  40. Sarah said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 1:29 am

    This reminds me of the local (in Nottingham, England) construction "It wants going on the table" (it needs to be put on the table). Not sure if this is the passival or something else.

  41. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » A peeve for the ages [upenn.edu] on Topsy.com said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 4:16 am

    [...] Language Log » A peeve for the ages languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2903 – view page – cached January 13, 2011 @ 9:37 am · Filed by Mark Liberman under Prescriptivist [...]

  42. Barrie England said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 7:01 am

    There is regional variation in Britain in the use of participles. In Scotland, a construction such as 'The cats need fed' is found, where in England we would say 'The cats need feeding' or the more formal 'The cats need to be fed.' (This from a talk to The Queen’s English Society in March 2000 by Richard Hogg.)

  43. Arnold Zwicky said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 11:29 am

    A brief account of White on the progressive passive, from a handout (of 4/5/04) for a class of mine on usage:

    3. White, Richard Grant. 1870. Words and their uses, past and present: A study of the English language. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin.

    White on the “progressive passive” of A bridge was being built:

    3.1. Don’t innovate. This construction is new (well, was new in the 18th century), and the language already has perfectly good constructions – three of them, in fact – to express this meaning: was in building, was a-building, was building (cf. p. 343). On the other side: was building is (potentially) ambiguous; was being built parcels out the components of meaning clearly into separate components of form, and merely combines two existing constructions in the language in the obvious way.

    3.2. One meaning per form, so combinations of forms of be with other forms of be are senseless:

    p. 353: What, then, is the fatal absurdity in this phrase, which has been so long and so widely used that, to some people, it seems to be an old growth of the language, while it is yet in fact a mere transplanted sucker, without life and without root? It is in the combination of is with being; in the making of the verb to be a complement, or, grammarians’ phrase, an auxiliary to itself – an absurdity so palpable, so monstrous, so ridiculous that it should need only to be pointed out to be scouted. To be… expresses mere existence…

    Note the implicit theory of grammar here, and the reasoning from first principles: A language couldn’t be like this.

    Compare I did do my work.

  44. Faldone said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 11:37 am

    In which R. G. White illustrates my observation about the thinking of prescriptivists: If it works in practice but not in theory, something must be wrong with the practice.

  45. Z. D. Smith said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

    'Was in building' isn't bad at all. I bet between 'was building' and 'was in building' I could get along just fine. 'Was a-building' rather makes one sound like a rube, I'm afraid.

  46. cameron said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

    That Scottish "needs fed" construction lives on in some regions of the US. It's a notable feature of the speech of people from the Pittsburgh area, for example.

  47. Richard Hershberger said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 3:54 pm

    'Read it, and see if you can figure out what aspect of it Richard Grant White in 1869 called the worst of "those intruders in language … '

    I just want to go on record that I figured it out quite easily. In fact, before I even read the passage I gave it a 50-50 chance this would be the answer. The other possibility was that "reliable" would pop up.

    But I have actually read Richard Grant White. I think that might be cheating.

  48. Ben Anhalt said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

    Interesting. I was not familiar with the passival before reading this post. And just now, I seem to have happened across one just by chance. It is from a New York Times Sunday Magazine article dated 100 years ago.

    http://sundaymagazine.org/2011/01/what-a-rich-man-learned-in-living-with-hoboes/

    From the article:

    «Private charity cannot be depending upon to boost the half million Americans who are under the shelf of life over the edge to a foothold in society. »

    I believe that is an example, is it not? Funny how that happens. Like when you learn a new word and then start to hear it everywhere.

  49. James Kabala said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

    The greeting "What's doing?" strikes me as another example (like "a storm is brewing") of a still-used passival.

  50. James Kabala said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

    Ben Anhalt: I think it might just be a typo! (I assume the intended word is "depended.")

  51. Ben Anhalt said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 8:05 pm

    @James Kabala – Ah, shoot. You are right. I looked at the pdf of the original (which I should have done before) and it is indeed "depended." And I was all excited, too. Oh well.

  52. Steve Kass » Jeepers, Keepers [1] said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 9:18 pm

    [...] [Source: Mark Liberman at Language Log] [...]

  53. yello.cape.cod said,

    January 14, 2011 @ 11:38 pm

    How does the passival relate to the so-called a-verbing construction? I've been trying to find out more about this usage since late last year, upon hearing 'Here we go a-wassailing' early in the Christmas season and wondering what that verb usage was called. Until I read this post I made very little headway in learning anything at all about it. It seems like some forms of the passival can be an 'a-verbing' contruction, but that not all 'a-verbings' are passival. I really want to know more about it!

  54. Tim Macdonald said,

    January 15, 2011 @ 7:08 am

    I submit that the modern-day equivalent is "If I would have done it". It grates on my ears but I can't deny it's no less logical than the standard "If I had done it", and I'm sure it'll be completely unremarkable by the time I'm middle-aged.

    I also want to pick a hole in one of White's examples. "The nation had cried out loudly against the crime which it was committing" is clearly not a passival but a straightforward active relative clause. Unless the word "it" has been inserted erroneously.

  55. “The Best Writers Say, ‘The House Is Building,’ Not ‘The House Is Being Built’” | theConstitutional.org said,

    January 16, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

    [...] to Prof. Mark Liberman (Language Log) for pointing this out. (He reports that “the progressive passive [e.g., ‘is being built’ [...]

  56. General updates 2011: January « The Outer Hoard said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 9:53 am

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  57. Links for the New Year « Literal-Minded said,

    January 23, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

    [...] french fries. Hey, I tried it!) Oh, well, I've read the paper on this topic anyway, and the interesting comparison that Maling made with English has been written up by Mark Liberman at Language Log. There was a time when the present progressive [...]

  58. Nicholas Sanders said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 10:44 am

    It looks like that new Icelandic passive might be a borrowing from Danish: det blev bedt mig at vaske op.

  59. Nicholas Sanders said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 10:49 am

    Apologies – I believe I have missed a word (although my grammar book is packed so I cannot check). I think the Danish should be: det blev bedt mig om at vaske op.

  60. Tim Hicks said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 11:33 am

    Further to Sarah's note: people raised in northern England might still say, "That tooth wants pulling" or "the lawn needs mowing."

  61. Constantine said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

    As far as I can see, the replacement of the passival with the progressive passive has been quite spotty. Most of Grant's examples of the passival seem alive and well. In some cases, one or the other is used to the exclusion of the other; in some cases, both are used. (No doubt there is local and individual variation in many cases.) Am I missing something? (If my previous defective version shows up, please delete it. Thanks.)

    The house is "being built"
    The meat was "cooking" (or "being cooked")
    The storm was "brewing" (Obviously, "being brewed" would suggest an agent, which would be absurd.)

  62. Standard Written English–The Universities’ New Whipping Boy « English Grammar Blog said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 11:46 pm

    [...] of Pennsylvania, pillories such an English "peeve" named Richard Grant White in an blog entry concerning White's criticism of the use of what is known as the progressive passive. White [...]

  63. Best-of-ELT-Blog-Posts (Karenne’s picks) January 2011 - English Teaching Daily said,

    September 19, 2011 @ 5:46 am

    [...] grammar's history relating to the  emergence of progressive passive (passive continous) and how it replaced the passival.  Bet you didn't know that! On being in the classroom Cecilia Coelho reveals a personal error in [...]

  64. Sid Smith said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 2:44 am

    Someone mentioned the wonderful Patrick O'Brian, whose characters occasionally use a similar business of object acting like a subject in remarks like, "This wine goes down gratefully."

    [(myl) References to Patrick O'Brian are always welcome, but in this case, I don't think the archaism resides in the verbal valences: liquids often "go down" in some manner or another in writing to this day. Rather, it's the obsolete meaning of grateful glossed "Pleasing to the mind or the senses, agreeable, acceptable, welcome" by the OED, e.g.

    1761   C. Churchill Night 5   Then in Oblivion's grateful cup I drown The galling sneer.

    So when Aubrey's wine goes down gratefully, it's basically just like a modern case where "Lassiter's first drink went down pleasantly enough" or, in a less hackneyed example, "The drink went down sweet and warm and left a lingering taste on her palate not unlike dirty gym socks".]

  65. maidhc said,

    June 4, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

    Nouns are a-verbing in this decadent times?

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