"wear" and "put on"

A. Katz amnfn at well.com
Thu May 12 03:31:42 UTC 2005

On Wed, 11 May 2005 Salinas17 at aol.com wrote:

> In a message dated 5/11/05 10:15:53 AM, oesten at ling.su.se writes:
> << "The teddy bear wore pink pyjamas" does not imply "The teddy bear put on
> pink pyjamas". That is, the relation between "put on" and "wear" is different
> from that between "fall asleep" and "sleep", in that there is an intentional
> (agentive) component in "put on". >>
> But isn't that a matter of the peculiar syntax governing "put on" in English?
>  Might not "The teddy bear wore pink pyjamas" imply "Someone put pink pyjamas
> on the teddy bear"?  I think the original example is mainly about how the
> focus on process versus end results can be used to convey different senses of
> time.  Difference in agents don't appear to affect the reference to differences
> in time.  E.g., whether I say, "Put this dress on" or "I will put this dress on
> you,"  they both mean that "You WILL wear this dress."
> Regards,
> Steve Long

To remove any implication of agentivity on the part of the wearer, English
speakers can use "to be dressed in".

(1) The teddy bear was dressed in pink pajamas.

(2) The woman was dressed in pink pajamas.

Both (1) and (2) imply nothing about how the subjects came to be dressed.
The inference that someone probably dressed the teddy bear while the woman
dressed herself is purely pragmatic.

In Hebrew, the binyanim help to deal with this issue.

"Hitlabshi"  -- Means "get dressed" (As in "dress yourself", reflexive)

"Livshi et ze" -- Means "get dressed in this"   (Whether the emphasis is
on the dressing or on the thing to be worn is decided by stress.)

    Thus "LIVSHI  et ze" means "Put that on right now!"

    But "Livshi et ZE" means "When you get dressed, make sure this is what
you wear."

     In both the above cases, the wearer is an agent. The clothes are the

However, the wearer need not be an agent. That depends on the construction

"ha'isha lavsha pijama" means "The woman wore a pajama."
agent: woman  patient: pajama

"ha'isha haita levusha bepijama" means "The woman was dressed in a

Being dressed here is a stative built from a passive. The woman is neither
an agent nor a patient. Note that the pajamas can be completely omitted:
"Haisha haita levusha" means "The woman was dressed."

"hilbishu et ha'isha bepijama" means "The woman was dressed (by someone)
in a pajama." (Again, the pajamas can easily be omitted, and the sentence
still makes sense.) Here the woman is clearly a patient, though no agent
is specified.

English vocabulary items such as "put on" stress the inceptive nature of
the action, but they also require that the patient be specified.
You can't say:

               "Put on!"


without sounding very strange.

"Wear" is more agentive than "to be dressed", because the passive
version of "wear", "to be worn" has the clothes for a subject. Clearly
"wear" is very focused on the thing worn, but says nothing about
how the wearing came about. If we want to focus on the agent, we can
use some form of a verb that does not always require an overt patient:
"to dress", "to be dressed in" or "to dress another."

It may be that the husband in the anecdote was using the semantics of "to
dress" rather than "wear", because "to dress" in its various forms works a
lot more like "lavash" in Hebrew, in that its focus is on the agent.

    --Aya Katz

Dr. Aya Katz, Inverted-A, P.O. Box 267, Raymondville, MO 65542

More information about the Funknet mailing list