passives with perception verbs

Takahero

Senior Member
Japanese
Hello.

I am interested in perception verbs.

I would like to know how passive sentences with perception verbs mean.

(1) Tom was seen by Mary to cross the street.

How do you paraphrase the underkined part?

I think that Mary saw Tom cross the street with her eyes.
This sentence does not mean that Mary realized/understand that Tom crossed the street. Am I right?
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    Correct. It means "Mary observed Tom cross the street."

    However, "Tom was seen by Marry to cross the line" (where "cross the line" is an expression meaning "go beyond the bounds of propriety or decency") would mean "Mary judged Tom('s behavior) to have exceeded the bounds of propriety".

    It can have a literal meaning or a figurative meaning, depending on context.
     

    Takahero

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you for your comment.

    From your comment, is it possible to conclude that passive sentences with see, always means direct perception, paraphrased as follows: observe somebody do something with one’s eyes?

    So, in (2) and (3), can I paraphrase the italicized parts as follows?
    "The police observed him go under the water with his eyes" and "people observed the meteorite fall locally with their eys".

    (2)Det Sgt Simon Firth of Nottinghamshire Police said that when the boat capsized, the missing man tried to swim ashore.
    "He was seen to go under the water as he swam towards the shore," he said. (BBC, Sunday, 27 February, 2000)

    (3) The meteorite was seen to fall locally (one fragment crashed through the roof of a barn). But most spectacularly, when it was analyzed it was found to contain a range of common amino acids. (The Japan Times, Wednesday, July 9, 2008)
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, that's right Takahero: both are to do with observation by sight.

    (2) means that someone saw the man going underwater. (I don't think the sentence implies that it was the police who saw it happening.)

    (3) means people saw the meteorite falling.
     

    Takahero

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    I appreciate your help.

    Do you think that the same intepretation applies to passive sentences with hear like blow?

    In other words, does the sentence in (4) mean that someone heared an investment analyst despair with one's ears? And in (5), does the sentence mean that people in the court heard her say "I love you" with their ears?

    (4)In 1979, an investment analyst was heard to despair, “The future is  clouded by many ugly questions.” (The New York Times, August 27, 2010)

    (5)As the judge left the court, the dock was surrounded by friends and relations of the two men. Guppy's heavily pregnant wife Patricia, 27, rushed forward and embraced him over the dock rail before the two men were led away. "I love you," she was heard to say. (BNC:K5M)
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    From your comment, is it possible to conclude that passive sentences with see, always means direct perception, paraphrased as follows: observe somebody do something with one’s eyes?
    No, I'm afraid not. I gave an example where it was figurative, not literal.

    Another example:

    "I would hate to be seen as greedy."

    This means that others might perceive or judge me to be greedy. It doesn't mean that they observed me performing greedy actions in the same way that Tom was seen to cross the streety by Mary. It means that they hold the opinion of me that I am a greedy person.

    I agree with natkretep that it means direct observation in the examples (2) and (3) that you gave above.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    There is a distinction that possibly not all English-speakers observe: I keep coming across it at work and correcting it, because as far as I'm concerned there is a clear difference between these two constructions:

    (a) John was seen to be dishonest. [They saw him - they caught him at it]
    (b) John was seen as dishonest. [They believed he was, perceived him that way]
     

    Takahero

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Hello.
    I would like to ask you one more question.

    Felser(1999) says that (1a) and (1b) are semantically incoherent.
    Do you agree with her?
    How are the following sentences semantically different?

    (1)
    a.Many people saw that he was writing Japanese, but they all thought he was just doodling.
    b.He was seen to write Japanese, but they all thought he was just doodling.
    c.Many saw him write Japanese, but they all thought he was just doodling.

    Thank you .
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    1a. and 2b. do not make sense. If they saw that he was writing Japanese they must have recognized it as Japanese. In both 1a. and 1b. the implication is that, if asked, they would say they saw him writing Japanese, which means they must have known it was Japanese.

    Only 1c. has the advantage of a third party observer who knows it is Japanese and also knows that they don't know it is Japanese.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    1b also has the weakness that the they is unattributed. If you change the sentence to

    He was seen to be writing Japanese, but people thought he was just doodling, you make the reader wonder who can have thought he was writing Japanese.

    If you change it to

    He was seen to be writing Japanese, but some people realised he was just doodling, you would be saying that he was just doodling but some people took him to be writing Japanese.

    So he was seen to be doing X can easily mean that people got the false impression that he was doing X.

    I'm not sure that he was seen doing X can mean anything other that he was doing X and was observed as he did it.

    PS. How about He was seen to do X? That seems to me less clear cut.
     

    Takahero

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Would you judge whther the following sentence is acceptable or not?

    (1) a. President Roosevelt was heard to declare war on Japan.

    b. President Roosevelt was heard to curse under his breath.

    (2) a. Nureyev was seen by thousands to dance at the concert hall.

    b. Nureyev was seen by a reporter to leave by the side door.

    I appreciate your help.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I would say 1b and 2b are unproblematic. 1a and 2a are a bit odd because the was seen/heard construction is usually used in relation to disputed information. They are, however, grammatically correct.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Takahero, consider sentences like:

    (3) John shouted at Mary.
    (4) John pinched Mary.

    They information is presented as fact. If you, instead, say:

    (3′) John was heard to shout at Mary.
    (4′) John was seen to pinch Mary.

    the information is seen as being supported by some witnesses, and the speaker him/herself does not take a position. It is in this sense that the constructions show some kind of distancing by the speaker and therefore can be used to signal disputed information.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    No, that's not what I meant. I meant that if a phenomenon is attributed to somebody's perception, it means that the speaker is unable or unwilling to vouch for it himself or herself. Nat
     
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