I stumbled upon a phrase in a book (about JavaScript):

The . notation is preferred because it is more compact and it reads better.

The . notation cannot read, as far as I understand. It can be read. So I expected something like:

The . notation is preferred because it is more compact and it is read better.

OR:

The . notation is preferred because it is more compact and it gets read better.

Not sure if the second option is appropriate in this context.

Why in this phrase is the active voice used?

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The seemingly active voice was used because the verb read has the following meaning:

[No Object, With Adverbial] (Of a piece of writing) convey a specified impression to the reader: the brief note read like a cry for help

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

However, this is not an active voice even though it looks like one due to the fact that the verb form used is intransitive (active). There is no suitable grammatical term for it, but to be exact, it is an active voice with a meaning that indicates a passive. Some grammarians called it a "middle voice" to denote the difference, but the name is debatable (I don't think it is the right grammatical term as there is limited number of its applicable usages). However, if you click the link, you will understand easily why it could be called a middle voice.

There are not many verbs that can function that way. Some examples are:

  1. Read: The book reads well. The sign reads "no smoking". The email reads as follows. The letter reads as follows.

  2. Sell: The book sells well. It sells like hot cakes.

  3. Cook: This meat cooks well.

  4. Cut: The knife cuts well. (Edit Note: The knife is the tool being used to cut, not the object of the cutting) Another good example is "this loaf of bread cuts well".

You can notice that most of the above sentences used the adverb well including your example which used the comparative better.

Since there are not many verbs that function that way, it is more important to learn their usages than know what it is called.

  • 1
    Not sure "cut" is a viable example. The knife is the tool being used to cut, not the object of the cutting. "This loaf of bread cuts well" would be more apt. But +1 for the rest. – IanF1 Nov 25 '15 at 7:27
  • 1
    @IanF1 Thank you for your comment. I edited and included your valid point. :) – user24743 Nov 25 '15 at 7:59

We often say things like:

That looks sharp.

That sounds nice.

That feels good.

That reads better.

That smells bad.

That tastes sour.

The perception is recast as an action of the thing perceived. The thing makes itself perceived.

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