This book analyzes the form and function of the English passive from a
verb-based point of view. It takes the position that the various surface
forms of the passive (with or without thematic subject, with or without
object, with or without by-phrase, with or without auxiliary) have a common
source and are determined by the interplay of the syntactic properties of
the verb and general syntactic principles. Each structural element of the
passive construction is examined separately, and the participle is
considered the only defining component of the passive.
Special emphasis is put on the existence of an implicit argument (usually
an agent) and its representation in the passive. A review of data from
syntax, language acquisition, and psycholinguistics shows that the implicit
agent is not just a conceptually understood argument. It is argued that it
is represented at the level of argument structure and that this is what
sets the passive apart from other patient-subject constructions.
A corpus-based case study on the use of the passive in academic writing
analyzes the use of the passive in this particular register. One of the
findings is that about 20-25% of passives occur in constructions that do
not require an auxiliary, a result that challenges corpus studies on the
use of the passive that only consider full be-passives. It is also shown
that new active-voice constructions have emerged that compete with the
passive without having a more visible agent. The emergence of these
constructions (such as “This paper argues...”) is discussed in the context
of changes in the rhetoric of scientific discourse.