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I was reading McCawley’s The Syntactic Phenomena of English when I came across this sentence:

  1. The horse that was raced past the barn fell.

This doesn't seem to make sense to me. Shouldn't it be this instead?

  1. The horse that raced past the barn fell.

The phrase was raced to me sort of implies that an external force caused it (racing past the barn) to happen. Hope I'm making any sense.

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1 Answer 1

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Race as a verb (it may also be a noun) may be transitive or intransitive. The relevant usage in your text is transitive:

Merriam Webster
race:
intransitive verb
1: to compete in a race
2: to go, move, or function at top speed or out of control
3: to revolve too fast under a diminished load
transitive verb
1: to engage in a race with
2a: to enter in a race
2b: to drive or ride at high speed
2c: to transport or propel at maximum speed

Meaning 2b applies to your text. The horse was raced (presumably by the jockey who rode it) past the barn. It fell.

{I am grateful for a comment that suggests I emphasise the transitive/intransitive comparison:

The 'was raced' phrasing is an actual passive transformation of the transitive use. Transitive "The man raced the horse past the barn" transforms to intransitive "The horse was raced (by the man) past the barn".}

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    Maybe you can make the point of the comparison more obvious by saying that the 'was raced' phrasing is an actual passive transformation of the transitive use. "The man raced the horse past the barn"-> "The horse was raced (by the man) past the barn". And then "the horse raced past the barn"
    – Mitch
    Sep 11, 2022 at 17:24
  • @MItch Agreed. Thanks
    – Anton
    Sep 11, 2022 at 17:54
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    The horse raced past the barn fell is a classic example of a "Garden Path Sentence", which starts out with one parse and falls apart at the end and needs to be reparsed, like Fat people eat accumulates. There are lots of them, but their effect only occurs in writing, because when we speak, we use intonation and rhythm to disambiguate. Sep 11, 2022 at 19:00
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    This question belongs on ELL. The actual examples given in the question text are trivial to parse by comparison with The horse raced past the barn fell (tricky even for native speakers to parse - until we realise that relativisers such as that was are effectively optional in such contexts). Sep 11, 2022 at 19:41
  • Yes, there are several ways to generate garden-path sentences, and Whiz-deletion is certainly a big one. Sep 11, 2022 at 20:37

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