When Agents Disappear


We lose subject-agents when we use nominalizations (characters are CAPITALIZED, verbs are boldfaced, nominalizations are underlined):

a. WE believe that this S&L should be cautious.
b. OUR belief is that this S&L should show caution.
c. [ ] belief is in favor of [ ] caution.
 
We also lose subject-agents when we use passive verbs:

a. THE COURT analyzed the competitive situation.
b. The competitive situation was analyzed by THE COURT.
c. The competitive situation was analyzed [ ].
 
In active sentences, the agent of the action is the subject, while the object or goal of the action is the object:

subject verb object

THE COURT analyzed the competitive situation.

agent action goal
 
In a passive sentence, the subject is the object or goal; a form of "to be" precedes the verb; and the agent may appear after the preposition "by":

subject verb

The competitive situation was analyzed by THE COURT.

goal action agent
 
But the agent may also be simply deleted:

The competitive situation was analyzed [ ].
 
In the most abstract, agentless writing, nominalizations combine with passives and impersonal verbs ("it seems," "it appears," etc.). Compare the following two examples (verbs are boldfaced, nominalizations are CAPITALIZED):

It is not clear that there must be an ANALYSIS of foreign law before there can be a DECISION in this matter.
We are not certain that we have to analyze foreign law before we can decide this matter.