But Ahab, my Captain, still moves before me in all his Nantucket grimness and shagginess; and in this episode touching Emperors and Kings, I must not conceal that I have only to do with a poor old whale-hunter like him; and, therefore, [A] all outward majestical trappings and housings are denied me. Oh, Ahab! what shall be grand in thee, it must needs be plucked at from the skies, and dived for in the deep, and featured in the unbodied air!
(Moby Dick, By Herman Melville, p.153. Penguin Popular Classics)

I surmise that the sentence of [A] should be ‘all outward majestical trappings and housings are denied by me’, or ‘all outward majestical trappings and housings denied me.’ Is there some typo in the example, or do I have to know more about the word, deny, or other constuction?

  • 4
    Things are denied to me by something. In this case, you can leave out the to (just the same as in "give the book to me" -> "give me the book"). The agent (whatever is doing the denying is simply not mentioned. Implied is that it is life, or God, or fate that dos the denying.
    – oerkelens
    Jul 10 '14 at 8:43
  • 2
    By-phrases are more commonly omitted than included in passive constructions. When they're included, they usually signal new information and are often useful to emphasize the agent. In this case, however, it seems your question should be "Why is there no 'to' in this passive construction?" In this case, me is not the agent; if by is omitted its complement must be omitted as well.
    – user230
    Jul 10 '14 at 13:45

all outward majestical trappings and housings are denied me

Means that he is is denied all majestical trappings and housings. In other words, he cannot have them. Another example:

As I am lactose intolerant, all dairy products are denied me.

In this use of denied, the denying agent is the situation or circumstance, not an agent per se.

  • 1
    So noted. Edited to clarify.
    – user8543
    Jul 10 '14 at 9:43
  • Wow, I've never seen this syntax before. So you can equally correctly say "The book is denied me" when you are denied to read the book?
    – justhalf
    Jul 10 '14 at 11:23
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    @justhalf: It's a slightly dated/formal usage (bear in mind OP's cited text was written over 160 years ago). Most native speakers today probably wouldn't say either "Dairy products are denied me" or "I am denied dairy products" anyway. They'd be much more likely to say something like "I can't have dairy products". Jul 10 '14 at 13:21
  • 2
    "I am denied dairy products" sounds natural to me, much like "I'm denied entry". But "Entry is denied me" sounds weird.
    – justhalf
    Jul 10 '14 at 13:23
  • "I am denied dairy products" is certainly grammatical, but it's kind of melodramatic. No one would say this unless they were emphasizing that dairy products are a great sacrifice which they could never experience.
    – Tiercelet
    Jul 10 '14 at 17:08

Why isn't there 'by' in this passive voice?

I'm afraid this question, like a lot of questions in this forum, is itself the wrong question to ask.

The question should be, rather,

Why isn't there 'to' in this passive voice?

There are therefore two parts to your question, the passive part and the transitive/intransitive bit.

Let's start with the transitive first.

"Deny" is one of those verbs which is transitive, e.g., in the active voice, we say,

The bar tender decided the customer was drunk. He denied the man service.

[The word "look," on the other hand, is intransitive and so requires a preposition, e.g. "look at,"

So we get phrases like, "look at that dog."]

Some words are active and transitive, too. You have to get to know each one.

Deny is often transitive because there is no need to add the word "to" in between.

So, in this elaborate quote from Moby Dick, it seems that his lowly occupation had denied the writer [Ishmael] "majestical trappings and housings". [active voice]

which becomes, in the original passive:

..all outward majestical trappings and housings are denied me.

However, deny can also be used in the intransitive, so, (as I think you're suggesting), the writer could just as easily said,

..all outward majestical trappings and housings are denied to me.

I hope this answers your question, @Listenever. If you feel you still have a problem with the passive voice, say so.

  • The only way the word "By" could have been used would have been if the entire meaning were changed so as to imagine a situation where writer had been accused of wearing majestical trappings and he wanted to deny this ; eg. "I don't have any majestical trappings you are accusing me of. I deny them. The majestical trappings are denied by me."
    – doc
    Jul 10 '14 at 10:10
  • 1
    I don't see the relevance of transitive/intransitive. me, or the man in your bar tender example, are indirect objects. You can give me the book, or give it to me. So the use of a preposition doesn't depend on transitivity. In the original phrase, the trappings and housings are the object, and in both cases (denied me / denied to me), the verb deny is transitive.
    – oerkelens
    Jul 10 '14 at 11:09
  • 2
    @oerkelens: It may be relevant to note that (curiously) "I am denied happiness" and "Happiness is denied me" mean exactly the same thing. Jul 10 '14 at 13:26

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