Teenager found bed

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Stan Carey writes "Here's a headline for you!":

"Mentally ill teenager held in police cell is found bed", BBC News Devon, 11/29/2014.

I puzzled over this for several re-readings, until I looked at the lead paragraph:

A teenage girl with mental health problems who was kept in police cells for two days because of a lack of care beds has been found a place to stay.

The obligatory screenshot:



  1. CNH said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 4:12 pm

    Better bed than dead.

  2. Jeff Carney said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 5:22 pm

    Perhaps Duchamp found it.

  3. GH said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 5:22 pm

    That must be intentional wordplay, surely?

  4. Pat Barrett said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 5:39 pm

    More interesting to me is "she has been found a place to stay". It is normal English, but when I was searching through the article, my antennae were up and it struck me that somehow "a place to stay has been found for her" can be transformed into "she has been found….. a place to stay." Is there a term for this sort of thing and examples of it with other verbs? "He has been bought a car" "A car has been bought for him."

  5. Lazar said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

    @Pat Barrett: I've wondered at that too; I guess I'd call it a dative passive. There's also a prepositional equivalent: "He has been spoken to." Are there other languages that do this?

  6. Guy said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

    @Pat Barret

    Most ditransitive clauses alternate with a monotransitive construction that takes an additional preposition phrase complent. "To" and "for" are the most common prepositions for this. "I gave you the thing" / "I gave the thing to you"; "I told you the truth" / "I told the truth to you"; "I got you this" / "I got this for you". Sometimes there is alternation where both versions have a preposition rather than being true ditransitive alternates: "I provided you with this" / "I provided this to you". In a ditransitive construction, it is usually the indirect object that passives most readily. The alternation permits comfortable passivization of other semantic roles with less risk of ambiguity. So we can have "You were given this" or "This was given to you"; "She was provided with this" or "this was provided to her". Motivations for selecting one form or the other are provided by the usual voicing issues: topicality, informational status, framing, euphony, etc.

  7. bedwetter said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 6:28 pm

    I think half of those sentence pairs may be examples of something called a 'false passive' in Annie Proulx's The Shipping News. The relevant passage is helpfully excerpted here http://chrishejl.com/2011/03/

    I'm not sure if the 'false passive' is a real thing or if it's actually wrong in a prescriptive sense, but as far as I can tell it's produced by making the indirect object (as opposed to the direct object) the subject. So —

    First grader Kimberly Plud gave the governor flowers.

    Becomes either —

    Flowers were given to the governor by first grader Kimberly Plud.

    Or —

    The governor was given flowers by first grader Kimberly Plud.

    The mistake — if it is a mistake — is less likely to be made if you start from 'Kimberly gave flowers to the governor', where the indirect object is clearly marked.

  8. Dan Milton said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 6:51 pm

    I don't think persons in police custody here in the US are "sectioned". Would someone enlighten me as to what happened at lunchtime?

  9. Jamie said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 7:02 pm

    Being "sectioned" means being admitted to hospital whether you agree to it or not, usually for mental health problems. The term comes from a reference to the appropriate section of the Mental Health Act.

  10. John Roth said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

    @ Pat, Lazar

    The active would be "Someone has found her a place to stay." Then if you use the indirect object as the passive, it becomes "she has been found a place to stay." It's a perfectly normal short passive.

    The other passive (using the direct object) would be "*a place has been found her to stay." It doesn't work without the preposition "for," which isn't in the active.

    Using the oblique object, the active becomes: "Someone has found a place for her to stay", and then the normal passive is "a place has been found for her to stay." The alternative, "?for her, a place has been found to stay," sounds like a translation from Yiddish (I think).

  11. Ray Girvan said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 10:32 pm

    This may be a combination of UK headlinese and UK medical jargon, but I (UK English speaker) don't find anything grammatically problematical about this: "X is found bed" = "a bed has been found for X", where "bed" = hospital placement.

  12. Jason said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 10:52 pm

    I've been puzzling over this one for my whole Sunday morning bike ride. It's just not grammatical for me. I think I figured out why. I can accept the monotransitive with a prepositional complement, as Guy said,

    "They have found a bed for mentally ill teenager"

    And the ditransitive:

    "They have found the mentally ill teenager a bed"

    But not the articleless

    "The have found mentally ill teenager bed"

    Let alone the passivized:

    "Mentally ill teenager is found bed" (with a change in the auxilary).

    I can just about accept

    "Mentally ill teenager is found a bed"

    But I greatly prefer

    "Bed is found for mentally ill teenager"

    or even

    "For mentally ill teenager a bed is found." (Which is a very WashPo type of headline, it seems to me.)

    I think something about the combination of passivization of a ditransitive like this /combined/ with headlinese article dropping throws my grammar pattern detection machinery completely wonky and it refuses to parse such sentences as natural utterances at all. It doesn't even like it with ditransitives in this context.

  13. Pat Barrett said,

    November 29, 2014 @ 11:47 pm

    This elicited just the discussion I wanted. Thanks. For me, the way a dative became the subject of a passive sentence was not something I'd thought of before, although I certainly use and accept such transformations.

  14. Keith said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 4:20 am

    The headline writer must have been paid by the word… normally it would have read something like "Mentally ill teenager found bed"

    We could then have spent time pondering whether it was the teenager who found the bed for herself, or somebody who found it her. :-P

  15. Mark Mandel said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 4:29 am

    Or, of course, whether "bed" was being used predicatively in some way unfamiliar to us.

  16. Bob Ladd said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 5:31 am

    @Pat Barret, Lazar, and others: "Passivising a dative" is a good way to describe this, and the answer to Lazar's question is that yes, some other languages do this, but lots don't. In most European languages the equivalent of I was given a book is completely impossible – the only things that can become the subject of a passive sentence are real direct objects. But there are other languages (Tagalog and other Philippine languages are the standard example) where you can create the subject of a passive sentence using nouns with all kinds of indirect grammatical connections to the verb, and you can say things like the equivalent of Labov's old example *This bed was eaten potato chips in.

    In German you can kind of get the effect of the English dative passive by manipulating word order. So you can't say *Ich wurde ein Buch gegeben, which is the direct equivalent of English I was given a book, but you can say Mir wurde ein Buch gegeben, where Mir 'me(dative)' comes first but grammatically speaking ein Buch is still the subject of the verb.

    In English, only some datives (or, only datives with some verbs) are happy to become the subject of passives, and generally to-datives work better than for-datives, which helps explain the marginal status of She was found a bed. For me, She was found a bed is more or less OK, but I have a feeling it may be better in British English than in North American, which may explain Jason's reaction above.

  17. narmitaj said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 6:24 am

    @ Dan Milton – more on the various Sections under which one can be sectioned, ie detained in hospital for mental health issues, at rethink.org/living-with-mental-illness/mental-health-laws/mental-health-act-1983/sections-2-3-4-5, with info on who can section you when and why and how long for, and whether or not you can refuse treatment.

    In this case, according to The Guardian, the patient was detained under Section 3. So she could be detained for up to 6 months (renewable) and cannot refuse treatment. Sections 2 and 3 are often used for people with Alzheimer's, for instance.

  18. John Lawler said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

    But is it really a dative? It's dative-shifted, all right; but the original

    X found him a bed

    surely is related to a benefactive for, not a real indirect object:

    X found a bed for him
    *X found a bed to him

    So it's passivizing a dative-shifted benefactive. Compressed to two words at the end of a long headline. Prima facie evidence of intent to play with language. Book'em.

  19. david said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 8:35 pm

    @Dan Milton The US equivalent is "Baker-acted"

  20. Robot Therapist said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 2:59 am

    I think the "held in police cell" in the middle throws my parser off. Without that, it is much easier to understand at a first reading.
    With it, I had to look twice, because I was expecting a word like "innocent" or "hanged" or "missing".

    (How can you find someone or something missing…)

  21. Peter said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

    @david has revealed his Floridian origin. In California, you get 5150ed. I guess other states probably have similar acts/sections which get verbed?

  22. James Wimberley said,

    December 3, 2014 @ 4:46 pm

    "For mentally ill teenager a bed is found." Isn't that in KJV Isaiah?

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