Passive Forms. Category of Voice

§ 510. In OE the finite verb had no category of Voice. With the exception of some traces of the Germanic Mediopassive restricted to the verb hātan ‘call’,[60] there was no regular opposition of forms in the verb paradigm to show the relation of the action to the grammatical subject. Only in the system of verbals the participles of transitive verbs, — Pres. and Past — were contrasted as having an active and a passive meaning (see § 197).

The analytical passive forms developed from OE verb phrases con­sisting of OE bēon (NE be) and weorðan (‘become’) and Part. II of tran­sitive verbs.

OE bēon was used as a link-verb with a predicative expressed by Part. II to denote a state resulting from a previous action, while the construction with OE weorðan ‘become’ indicated the transition into the state expressed by the participle. Werthen was still fairly common in Early ME (e.g. in ORMULUM), but not nearly as common as the verb ben: soon werthen was replaced by numerous new link-verbs which had developed from notional verbs (ME becomen, geten, semen, etc., NE become, get, seem); no instances of werthen are found in Chaucer.

The participle, which served as predicative to these verbs, in OE agreed with the subject in number and gender, although the concord with participles was less strict than with adjectives (see § 198). The last instances of this agreement are found in Early ME: fewe beop icorene (POEMA MORALE — 13th c.) ‘few were chosen’.

§ 511. In ME ben plus Past Part. developed into an analytical form. Now it could express not only a state but also an action. The formal pattern of the Pass. Voice extended to many parts of the verb paradigm: it is found in the Future tense, in the Perf. forms, in the Subj. Mood and in the non-finite forms of the verb, e.g. Chaucer has:

... the conseil that was accorded by youre neighebores

(‘The advice that was given by your neighbours’)

But certes, wikkidnesse shat be warisshed by goodnesse.

(‘But, certainly, wickedness shall be cured by goodness.’)

With many a tempest hadde his berde been shake.

(‘His beard had been shaken with many tempests.’)

The new Pass. forms had a regular means of indicating the doer of the action or the instrument with the help of which it was performed. Out of a variety of prepositions employed in OE — from, mid, wið, bi — two were selected and generalised: by and with. Thus in ME the Pass. forms were regularly contrasted to the active forms throughout the paradigm, both formally and semantically. Therefore we can say that the verb had acquired a new grammatical category — the category of Voice.

§ 512. In Early NE the Pass. Voice continued to grow and to extend its application.

Late ME saw the appearance of new types of passive constructions. In addition to passive constructions with the subject corresponding to the direct object of the respective active construction, i.e. built from transitive verbs (see the above examples), there arose passive construc­tions whose subject corresponded to other types of objects: indirect and prepositional. Pass. forms began to be built from intransitive verbs associated with different kinds of objects, e.g.

indirect objects:

The angel ys tolde the wordes. (Higden)

(‘The angel is told the words.’)

He shulde soone delyvered be gold in sakkis gret plenty. (Chaucer)

(‘He should be given (delivered) plenty of gold in sacks.’)

prepositional objects:

I wylle that my moder be sente for. (Malory)

(‘I wish that my mother were sent for.’)

He himself was oftener laughed at than his iestes were. (Caxton)

'tis so concluded on; We'll be waited on (Shakespeare)

It should be added that from an early date the Pass. Voice was com­mon in impersonal sentences with it introducing direct or indirect speech:

Hit was accorded, granted and swore, bytwene pe King of Fraunce and pe King of Engelond pat he shulde haue agen al his landes (Brut, 13th c.)

(‘It was agreed, granted and sworn between the King of France and the King of England that he should have again all his lands.’)

The wide use of various pass. constructions in the 18th and 19th c. testifies to the high productivity of the Pass. Voice. At the same time the Pass. Voice continued to spread to new parts of the verb paradigm: the Gerund and the Continuous forms (the use of Pass. in the Continuous form has remained restricted to this day — see § 521).

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