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マーク No. 045 What is the passive of the verb "be"?

We all learn that the verb "be" has no passive voice. For example, you cannot say, "It was been".

But is it true to say that "be" has no passive voice? In fact, certain uses of "be" do have passives. It is just that we do not notice the passive, since the active and the passive are the same in form.

We can say this:

1. A dove is peace.

Another way of saying this is:

2. A dove represents peace.

In sentence 1, the meaning of "is" is "represents", or some word that has that kind of meaning. Other verbs we could use instead of "is" are:
A dove symbolizes/signifies/indicates/suggests peace.

These "represent", etc. sentences all have passive forms:

is represented/symbolized/signified/indicated/suggested by
a dove.

In other words, we can turn the nouns "dove" and "peace" around and get a passive sentence with these verbs.

Speaking logically, one might expect the same to be the case with the verb "be". However, when we do turn the sentence around, the form of the verb remains the same:

Peace is a dove.

To summarize this:

A dove is peace = A dove represents peace
Peace is a dove = Peace is represented by a dove

So, it is quite easy to see that "Peace is a dove" is actually a passive sentence. It's just that we never notice it!!


● Words & Phrases ●
  • it is s true to do 
  • in fact 
  • do haveのdoは強意の助動詞で「確かに〜」
  • It is just that ..
  • in form
  • represent/symbolize/
  • In other words
  • turn around
  • remain the same
  • Speaking logically
  • expect A to be/to do
  • the case with

(帝京大学教授 Christopher Barnard)



マーク No. 046 Two different meanings of "be" (Part 1)

In the last Column I wrote that "be" can mean something like "represent" or "indicate". Here is a fuller list of the verbs that can be used instead of "be" with the general meaning of "represent", "indicate","mean", etc.:

* Bruce Willis was/played the hero in "Die Hard".
* This lever is/acts as/functions as/serves as the brake.
* A white flag is / indicates / suggests / implies / shows / symbolizes / signifies / represents / expresses surrender
* 2 and 2 is / equals / adds up to / makes 4.
* "NHK" is / stands for / means "Nihon Hoosoo Kyookai".

The verbs which are underlined above are ones which easily take the passive, as in:

* The hero was played by Bruce Willis.
* Surrender is indicated by a white flag.

In this Column and the previous Column, I have been discussing the identity meaning that the verb "be" sometimes has. Next week, I will look at another meaning of "be".



● Words & Phrases ●
  • fullerは、fullの比較級で
  • play
  • act as
  • add up to
  • stands for
  • underline

(帝京大学教授 Christopher Barnard)



マーク No. 047 Two different meanings of "be" (Part 2)

In the previous Column (and the one before), I discussed the identity meaning of "be". An example of this identity meaning is:

2x is 4

In this case, we can say that 2x has the identity of 4.

The second meaning of "be", which I will discuss in this Column, is connected with "characteristic".

If I say, "Hiromi is a man", I am not identifying Hiromi. I am not saying which person Hiromi is. Rather, I am telling you about some characteristic of Hiromi. Namely he is a man, not a woman.

The basic questions for the identity meaning and the characteristic meaning of "be" are different:

Identity meaning of "be":

Q: Who is Hiromi?
A: Hiromi is the man.

Q: Do you know which one Hiromi is?
A: Hiromi is the man.

Q: I am looking for Hiromi.
A: Hiromi is the man.

Characteristic meaning of "be":

Q: Is that woman over there Hiromi?
A: No, Hiromi is a man.

Q: What does Hiromi look like?
A: Hiromi is a man.

Q: Tell me about Hiromi.
A: Hiromi is a man.

The characteristic meaning of "be" is also used in sentences like:
Hiromi is very tall.

Again, in this sentence, we are describing Hiromi in terms of some characteristic. The question would be "What does Hiromi look like?"

Here is a list of the verbs that can be used with the characteristic meaning of "be":

* He was/became/grew/got/went pale.
* He was/remained/stayed/kept calm.
* He was/seemed/appeared tired.
* That is/looks/sounds/smells/feels/tastes terrible.
* I am/feel sick.

We can think that the sentences with "be" give the basic information (He was pale/calm/tired, etc.), but the sentences with the other verbs give the same information, but in a more interesting way (He became pale/He stayed calm/He seemed tired).

● Words & Phrases ●
  • characteristic
  • be connected with
  • namely
  • look like
  • in terms of
  • in a more interesting way

(帝京大学教授 Christopher Barnard)



マーク No. 048 Two different meanings of "be" (Part 3)

In Columns 45, 46, and 47, I discussed the identity and characteristic meanings of the verb "be".

The natural question is: "How do I know which is the identity meaning and which is the characteristic meaning?"

It is very easy to check this. With the identity meaning of "be", we can turn the sentence around, and it is still correct English:

* Hiromi is the man. > The man is Hiromi.
* Bruce Willis was the hero. > The hero was Bruce Willis.
* This lever is the brake. > The brake is this lever.
* A white flag is surrender. > Surrender is a white flag.
* 2 and 2 is 4. >> 4 is 2 and 2.
* "NHK" is "Nihon Hoosoo Kyookai". > "Nihon Hoosoo Kyookai" is "NHK".

The fact that we can change these sentences around is quite natural, since identity means that two things are the same, as in "A is B". If A is B, B is also A. So we can say either "A is B" or "B is A".

But we cannot turn the sentence around in the case of the characteristic meaning:

*Hiromi is a man. >> (×)A man is Hiromi.
*Hiromi is tall. >> (×)Tall is Hiromi.

In this case, we are giving some information about Hiromi. The relationship is not "A is B". The relationship is "A is a capital letter".


● Words & Phrases ●
  • the natural question is ...
  • change ... around
    =turn ... around
  • come back to

(帝京大学教授 Christopher Barnard)



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