How many houses are building in this village?

  • mplsray

    Senior Member
    I have to ask, mpl. Why not? And what would have been?

    The matter is discussed in the Grammar chapter of Nineteenth-Century English by Richard W. Bailey. I don't remember if Bailey addressed why the purists of the time objected to sentences such as How many houses are being built in this village? but the form they would have found acceptable was How many houses are building in this village?
     

    Jim 89

    Member
    Sydney, Australia. English
    How many houses are being built in this village? but the form they would have found acceptable was How many houses are building in this village?

    "How many houses are being built" makes more sense, as houses don't build, people do. It's surprising that they found acceptable such a stupid phrase as "houses are building" rather than the sensible "houses are being built".
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    "How many houses are being built" makes more sense, as houses don't build, people do. It's surprising that they found acceptable such a stupid phrase as "houses are building" rather than the sensible "houses are being built".

    I remembered another place I had read about the objection to the house is being built. It's discussed in The Century Dictionary of 1895, in an article on page 2 about the preposition a meaning "on" or "in." That preposition became the first syllable in such words as aglow, afoot, and ashore, and is still heard in some dialects in sentences such as He's going a-fishing.

    Usages such as the house is building started out as the house is a building (and had the alternative form the house is in building—both forms are seen in the King James/Authorized version of the Bible), with the preposition later being dropped. The form the house is being built, which the Century article identifies as a recent form called the progressive passive participle, was considered to be not just nontraditional but illogical as well, "condemned by logicians and purists." Interestingly, in the same article the writer makes the prediction that the progressive passive participle "will probably pass into correct literary usage," as indeed it did.
     
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