Wednesday, June 23, 2004

A strange sentence?

The power of forums to educate has long been proven, whether it is about language teaching or other subjects. I stumbled upon the linked-to thread on one of my wild surfs. What struck was, of course, the core question and debate, but also the "I'll appreciate any help" that Miriam closes with. I don't know if it's something I would comfortably close a missive with, or use even in normal, oral intercourse (pun's completely unintended, folks). Would you?
A strange sentence?: "A strange sentence?
Posted: 29-05-2004 04:52 AM
Can anyone help, please?
Last Wednesday, we were talking about the passive voice in class, and we found something in a book called 'English Syntax: A Grammar for English Language Professionals', by R. A. Jacobs, which surprised us.

In the chapter about passive voice, under the heading 'Prepositional verbs' we found the following examples, in which an intransitive verb is followed by a prepositional phrase:
'Seven monarchs have slept in that four-poster bed.'
'A surveyor walked through the forest.'

The author says about these sentences:
'The sentences make an assertion that includes a specification of the location in which the monarchs slept or through which the surveyor walked. Thus, syntactically and semantically, these sentences should not have passive voice counterparts. They have an intransitive verb plus a preposition, and they don't seem to have a suitable candidate for subject, since the subjects of passive voice clauses are prototypically the entities affected by the action expressed by the verb. Yet such counterparts exist:
'That four-poster bed has been slept in by seven monarchs.'
'The forest was walked through by a surveyor.'
We may not think of the bed as being affected by the sleeping, and certainly the forest seems unlikely to be affected by someone walking through it. But in fact we can envisage a slept-in bed with its rumpled sheets. We understand the bed to have ben somehow affected by having had so many high-ranking people sleep in it. Its value as an antique must surely have been enhanced. Notice that 'slept in' cannot be replaced by 'died in'. We don't normally visualise a 'died-in' bed.'

My question here is: why is 'slept in' acceptable but 'died in' isn't?
Is there actually a grammatical rule to account for this? Or is it the author's personal opinion on the matter? What, if any, is the difference between both sentences?
If you ask *me*, I don't like 'slept in' any better than I do 'died in'.

I'll appreciate any help.

[ Source... ]
You'll have to follow the link to get the full answer, from various readers. I seem to think that we can say a bed has been or looks slept-in also because this can be a usual, a repetitive, or -- especially -- a continuous condition, whereas died-in cannot. A bed is usually died-in once, which means we can't really get to know what a died-in bed looks like. We see slept-in beds all the time, and the doer can sleep in them all morning or all day. I saw one just this morning, as I was leaving to go to work. A house or a room can certainly look lived-in. My dorm-room in college continuosly looked lived-in for four years. But neither a house nor a room can look born-in, or killed-in (which would be very helpful to the homicide squad), or screwed-in.


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