John M. Anderson University of Edinburgh (emeritus) “Parasitic passives of intransitives in English.”


There is an unusual construction in English involving the passive of a normally agentive intransitive verb, such as attempt. The viability of such a passive depends on its being complemented by a normal passive of a transitive. The intransitive passive can be said to be parasitic upon the transitive. Thus, the overall construction takes the form of They were attempted to be dismissed. The present essay, starting from a couple of attested examples, explores the structure of such sentences and attempts to account for the parasitic requirement that ensures the acceptability of the intransitive passive concerned. Within a framework based on recent developments in notional grammar, it offers analyses of passives of various types in English as a background to establishing an understanding of the nature of such parasitic passives.

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