Jan 16

Oddities of the English Language

While out biking last week with a friend, he brought up and interesting question…

Does it seem strange to you that in English, we use the passive “ride” for a bike, as if it’s moving on its own power like a horse, and the active “drive” for a car, as if we’re providing the motive forces ourself?

I hadn’t really thought about it until he brought this up, but he is right, listen when people around you are talking about riding a bicycle.  They often say “I went on a bike ride”, whereas they say “I drove the car”.  Strange isn’t it?  I mentioned this to my wife today, and she offered some useful insight.  During the time when people actually took Sunday drives, it probably would not have been unusual to hear someone proclaim “I went on a Sunday drive”.  Her supposition is that the use of passive voice has more to do with goal of the activity than the actual activity.  For instance, you would be more likely to hear someone say “I road to the mall”, where you are actually riding a bicycle for a purpose, in this case to get to the mall.  My hunch is that you are more likely to hear people who use their bikes as a vehicle refer to their activities using the active voice.

1 comment

    • Jessica on January 19, 2006 at 3:41 pm

    Just another example of the vagaries of the English language. One of my favorites is the word “cleave,” which can mean “to cut apart” or “to stick together.”

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