Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Reflexive verbs and the passive voice

Today's word:
предлагатъ/предложить - to offer (a p. Д/В)

This word isn't so remarkable in itself, but the grammatical construct in which I encountered it is fairly interesting. The sentence (somewhat paraphrased) is: "Ему предлогался дом." "предлогал" is the masculine past tense of "предлогать." (Russian past participles are pretty easy to form. In most cases, you just take the "-ть" off of the infinitive and add "-л/-ла/-ло/-ли" (for masculine/feminine/neuter/plural subjects). The "-ся" on the end of "предлогался" is a reflexive particle. The reflexive particle gets attached to any form of any verb (where it makes sense). It can appear either as "-ся" or as "-сь." (There's a rule, but I don't want to get into that right now.)

Normally, a reflexive verb indicates that the subject is also the object of an action. (I.e. "I dress myself.") In the above sentence, that doesn't really make sense. "Ему" is the dative form of "он" (meaning "he"), so it can't be the subject of the sentence. But "дом" (meaning "house") doesn't really make sense as the subject of the sentence, either. ("*To him offered itself the house"?) Actually, "дом" is in the accusative case, although you can't tell that from the word form alone. (Masculine inanimate nouns are identical in form in the nominative and accusative cases.) So . . . a better translation is "*[as yet unidentified subject] offered itself him the house." Better, but it still doesn't quite work. It turns out that the reflexive form of transitive verbs can also be used to express the passive voice (which is why the subject is missing). So, "Ему предлогался дом" becomes "To him was offered [by an unnamed entity] a house," or "He was offered a house."


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