How to parse a sentence in the passive voice?

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Hello All

This is my first thread. I am very happy to see such forums to discuss matters related to English.

I am facing a big problem with parsing the passive voice sentences. Consider the following:

The computer has been purchansed by the group.

Logically:
the computer = Subject
has been purchased = Verb

In case the above is the correct parsing, how can we parse: by the group???

But, can we look at the sentence from another angle???

The Computer = Subject
Has been= Verb
purchased by the group= complement

Thank you
 
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Tdol

Thank you for your answer. An agent is a semantic description not a syntactic one.

From a syntactic point of view, any English sentence, whatever long it may be, can be divided to the following categories:

Subject
Verb
Subject Complement
Object Complement
Adverbial


A professor once told me that the "by..."clause is an adverbial. But I am not convinced at all! As you have correctly noted, it is an agent (thematically) so how can it be an adverbial?

For this reason I suggested that the passive sentence is simply a construction where we have a Subject connected to the Predicate with a linking verb (be).
 
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whitemoon

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How about predicate?
The computer has been purchased by the group.
the computer = subject
has been purchased by the group = predicate
Passive voice is a kind of sentence patterns we use to emphasize the object, on the other hand, a sentence we have changed active voice to passive voice. I think we can't parse it because it has the original sentence:"The group has purchased the computer".
 
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Whitemoon

In fact as I explained above, a sentence, syntactically, can be divided into:

Subject
and
Verb

and/or Object, Complement, Adverbial

A predicate is not a function and therefore cannot be used.

There is still another surprising point :) According to syntax, there is no one to one correspondence between the passive and the active. In other words, we cannot say at all that the active is the origin of the passive!
 
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whitemoon

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Whitemoon

In fact as I explained above, a sentence, syntactically, can be divided into:

Subject
and
Verb

and/or Object, Compliment, Adverbial

A predicate is not a function (Why? Cose of syntactically? Actually I don't know the meaning of syntactically.) and therefore cannot be used.

There is still another surprising point :) According to syntax, there is no one to one correspondence between the passive and the active. In other words, we cannot say at all that the active is the origin of the passive!(Maybe!)
Have a good time!
WM
 

susiedqq

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A professor once told me that the "by..."clause is an adverbial. But I am not convinced at all! As you have correctly noted, it is an agent (thematically) so how can it be an adverbial?

HOW was the computer purchased? By credit card? by the group?

Adverbs answer "how"
 

Wuisi

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Tdol


From a syntactic point of view, any English sentence, whatever long it may be, can be divided to the following categories:

Subject
Verb
Subject Compliment
Object Compliment
Adverbial



Hi,
Didn't your teacher divide these categories any further into different kinds of subjects, verbs, objects, complEments and adverbials? What did he do with sentences such as 'We are having our house redecorated'?.
 

Buddhaheart

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‘By the group’ is a prepositional phrase with the substantive ‘group’ functioning as the object of the preposition 'by' and direct object of the sentence. It may also be considered as an adverbial modifier of the verb phrase ‘has been purchased’.
 
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Hi,
Didn't your teacher divide these categories any further into different kinds of subjects, verbs, objects, complEments and adverbials? What did he do with sentences such as 'We are having our house redecorated'?.

We are having our house decorated.

We= Subject
are having = Verb
our house = Object
decorated = Object Complement

The reference adopted for our syntax courses was:

A Comprehensive Grammar of English

by Quirk et al.

The authors of that book did mention all possible consturcitons of sentences (as far as obligatory constituents are concerned) and they pointed out that a sentence can have up to the following categories:

Subject, Verb, Direct Object, Indirect Object, Subject Complement, Object Complement, and Adverbial.

Now back to our passive voiced sentence:

The computer has been purchased by a group.

The above sentence must be and can only be parsed in terms of the categories given above in bold.

My point, which I not at all sure of, is from a semantic point of view, we understand that:

We have a something: (A computer)
and something happened to this 'something': (has been purchased)

So can we say that:

has been= Verb (The perfect form of the verb to be)
purchased= Subject Complement
????

Another example that might be clearer:

The table is broken.

Here we are describing a state of the table. Since "The table" is the subject of the sentence, I can see that "broken" describes what state the table is in. Therefore, for me, it is logical to claim that "is" is a copula or a linking verb and "broken" is a subject complement.

I will tru to check Quirk et al and see if it says anything about it.
 
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Wuisi

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Hi,
I must confess I don't understand the point you are trying to make but, let's play!!!
According to your own rules we must stick to syntax even though we can turn to semantics here and there, so there we go...
We are having our house redecorated.
We (Subject)
are having (verb)
our house (object)
redecorated (object complement, though I think it complements the action not the object, but OK, so far so good)
However, this sentence means something like,
'A group of professionals is/are redecorating our house (for us)' and so, we can see
We (subject?, it means something like 'us'; it is a subject because it happens to be placed before the verb, keeps concord with it and it is in the subjective case)
are having (verb, active but with a passive meaning)
our house (object, ok, but it would be very difficult to explain why the object remains the object when the verb has a passive meaning)
redecorated (object complement?, that would be debatable with 'had' or 'have had' but not with 'are having'. The information conveyed relates to the process not to the noun; passive meaning, again)
To me this is Quirk at his best!!!. He would admit an implied (elliptical) subject in 'Stop', (for example), but would not admit to the existence of different kinds of subjects just because for him a subject is a syntactical constituent that has nothing to do with meaning. 'We' in this sentence may look like a subject but it is not the real subject, just happens to meet the requirements established by Quirk to define a subject. That's Quirk.
Regards.
 
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Wuisi

I also admit it is confusing.

We are having the house redecorated.

Does it really have a passive meaning, given that a group of professionals are doing the job for us?

Or, is it active in meaning because we are talking about the people (We) who are getting the service?

Semantically, in other words, it is something like: "We are receiving the service of redecoration of our house"

At any rate, the question is related to such a clear passive sentence like:

The computer has been purchased by us.


Quirk to the best of my knowledge recognises only four functions in a sentence:

Subject
Verb
Complement (Subject or Object)
Adverbial

If the above understanding of Quirk is right, how can we parse the above sentence?

I have tried to surf the book of Quirk cited earlier but unfortunately could not see how a passive sentence is syntactically analysed.

More surprisingly, a textbook which is based on Quirk and whose auther asserts that no part of a sentence (on the sentence level) may be parsed except in terms of the above four elements seems to have not parsed any passive sentence! In one instance, he referred to the "by+agent" phrase and to my surprise he said: "This is called an agentive phrase", an explanation that contradicts his assumption that only the above four functions exist on the sentence level.

You know something. For me it is much easier abd much more understandable to parse "by+phrase" as an agentive phrase. But the point is: how do other grammarians look at the matter?
 

velimir

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Hello everybody,


Mohammad,the same problem bothered me too.I've also met the phrase "by+agent" in parsing sentences and I don't find it helpful.The main reason is that I've learned grammar on the basis which Quirk founded and I absolutely agree that introducing other terms,like "by-agent" in this case,does not make things clearer,on the contrary.Speaking from the viewpoint of a learner and not a grammar proffessional,in the sentence type like you've quoted:

"The computer has been purchased by the group."

the element "by the group" doesn't sound "adverbially" (it doesn't respond well to the question "how"and would be a better answer to the question "who"),still I wouldn't introduce some new concept in the nomenclature which Quirk established.And I have two reasons for such opinion in this particular case:

1. First,the term tells about the semantics of the phrase and not about its syntactic function in the sentence.I think that analysis of a sentence require some automation and some sequence of steps,carrying it out strictly step by step,the first step being a syntactic analysis.I consider this first step as a bird's eye view,or a rough sketch of the sentence.That mean the first thing you do is a technical job of identifying sentence parts and,if required,dissecting that parts all the way to the words constituents in that sentence.Then you can analyse further what exactly some part is by its form,what is its semantics etc.In my opinion,implicating semantic terms and elaborations in the syntactic analysis of the sentence structure is a highway to confusion.
2. Secondly,even if other term was chosen it still means enlarging the structure of five elements which Quirk has given (not four,you've missed "object" as a element of a sentence structure)and it complicates things.Using that logic,the Quirks structure could be enlarged with a lot more elements for every unfitting exception.

I think that one simple structure as Quirk has established enables an ESL learner to acquire automation similar to native speakers.Knowing logical slots in which words fit makes easier incorporating new vocabulary and gives a basic orientation to an ESL learner i.e a roadmap to things which he should focus on in his learning.An ESL learner should always have in his mind that grammar is a tool and a very basic tool in acquiring any language.It is valuable as much as you can use it effectively.

As a conclusion,I think that compared with the immensity of other fields which Quirk's conception brilliantly elaborate some questionable issues can be ignored.It would be like not seeing the wood for the trees.In a mass of different approaches and conceptions in the field of english grammar I chose Quirk's grammar as the most convinient and useful in the store.And although I take every opportunity to learn something more and different on grammar,I keep away from mixing its conception and terminology too much with other to avoid confusion.

P.S In "A Student's Grammar of the English language" ,semantic roles of adverbials are elaborated in chapter 8 and "by+noun" construction is under "process" role of adverbials ,subclass "agency".


Best regards

Velimire
 
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Thank you Velimir

Let us take the following example:

The chair is broken.

Do you agree with me that here we are describing a STATE of the chair (that is "broken"? And, since a complement is used to describe a state can we take the risk and say that when a verb is in the passive, we take the auxiliary (is) as a linking verb and the past participle (broken) as a complement?
 

velimir

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Hello Mohammed,

You're welcome,I'm glad if you've found my post useful in any way.:-D
As to the sentence you've given, I think that how you analyse the sentence is the right way it should be parsed. By uttering quoted sentence the focus is being placed on the state of the chair and not on the action of its breaking. The past participle "broken" is a participial adjective by its form and functionaly it is a subject complement and modifies the noun "chair" .
If the focus is to be set on the action and we're supposed to convey the breaking of the chair as a new information to someone than we would say :

The chair has been broken.

In this case "broken" is the past participle form of the verb "break" and it is part of the verb phrase " has been broken" .

I understand it like I've put it above,still it would be better to ask a native speaker to get a hundred percent accurate answer.

Best regards

Velimir
 
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