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Constraints on the agentless passive

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2008

E. Judith Weiner
Temple University and University of Pennsylvania
William Labov
Temple University and University of Pennsylvania


This paper is a quantitative study of the factors that determine the selection of passive constructions over active ones by English speakers. By examining a large body of passives used in spontaneous speech, together with the sentences that show an opposing choice, we are able to throw light on the crucial question of which syntactic and which semantic features of the environment act to constrain the choice and whether syntactic or semantic factors predominate in this case. In the course of the analysis, we will also have something to say about the social factors that have been reported to determine the use of the passive.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1983

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