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"aim at"
Grammar diagnosis
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2014/05/02
5:44am
Michael Sklaroff
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In the sentence, “The weapon is aimed at me,” why is the phrasal verb, aim at, not in the progressive tense, “aiming at”? 

What structure or tense is the form, “aimed at”?

Thanks!

2014/05/02
8:11am
Glenn
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Hi, Michael. Welcome to the forum.
The main difference is that of active voice versus passive voice.

The weapon is aiming at me
is an active present progressive verbal construction.

The weapon is aimed at me
is a present passive verbal construction. In this use, it is nearly indistinguishable from a participial adjective. To distinguish the two possibilities, consider the following to show that it is, indeed, verbal and not adjectival:
*The weapon is very aimed at me. (Impossible! If inserting very is still grammatical, it will mark an adjectival use.)
The weapon is aimed at me by the most skillful soldier in the platoon. (Awkward, but grammatical. If inserting an agent is still grammatical, it will mark a passive verbal use. It works better if I add After it is loaded, the weapon … )

[added the following:] I just realized that I neglected to answer your question as to why.

Both sentences are possible with a different nuance. I suspect that the present passive construction is more common because a weapon is generally assumed to be aimed by someone or something. A weapon is rarely considered as an active agent in its own right. Still, with current technology, the active voice seems more and more likely. One could easily imagine a science-fiction setting in which the active voice would be perfectly fitting. Even with conventional weaponry, the active voice can be employed when the question of agency is moot. It is just, in my opinion, more likely to be found in the passive, hinting at the existence of someone aiming the blasted thing!

I hope this helps.

2014/05/02
8:25am
Robert
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The key thing about the verb ‘aim’ is that it requires 2 objects, one direct, one indirect.  In your sentence they are, respectively, ‘the weapon,’   and ‘me.’   

The sentence is in the passive voice, meaning one of the object is used as as a subject, and in which the verb ‘be’  mandatory.   In your sentence, ‘the weapon’  fulfills that role as subject of the sentence.

If you want to use the active voice instead,  you need to supply a subject for the verb ‘aim,’   for  instance,  ‘He,’   as in this sentence:

He is aiming the weapon at me.

2014/05/02
8:45am
Robert
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Glenn said

The weapon is aiming at me
is an active present progressive verbal construction.

I think that that construction is not valid, for the reason that it is missing a direct object for the verb ‘aim.’

Of course, ‘aim’ can be without ‘at,’  in which case it is used differently :  aim to…,  aim for…

It can also be without objects, in which case it means  ‘perform the act of aiming':   Aim !…  Shoot!

2014/05/02
9:54am
New River, AZ, USA
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Glenn said: A weapon is rarely considered as an active agent in its own right. Still, with current technology, the active voice seems more and more likely.

Totally agree. And I don’t think you need to invoke science fiction to have a weapon aiming itself in the “active” sense. A search for “self-aiming weapon” brings up 2.6 million hits. For example, this. Scary stuff. The ones I looked at were more an “assistive” technology, but truly autonomous weapons are surely on the horizon.

Even armed military drones still need a human decision to actually open fire on a target, albeit with that human in a safe remote location. But I suspect that with continued advances in facial recognition and hi-res cameras, there’s a drone out there somewhere being tested for autonomous operation. “Scan this image of bin Laden, then go find him and fire at will.” God forbid anyone just happens to look like the target. Now that’s a really scary scenario.

2014/05/02
10:21am
Dick
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Robert said

Glenn said

The weapon is aiming at me
is an active present progressive verbal construction.

I think that that construction is not valid, for the reason that it is missing a direct object for the verb ‘aim.’

Of course, ‘aim’ can be without ‘at,’  in which case it is used differently :  aim to…,  aim for…

It can also be without objects, in which case it means  ‘perform the act of aiming':   Aim !…  Shoot!

The direct object is implied.  For example, “The soldier is aiming at me.”  “the weapon” is the direct object, implied. (Of course context is important because any number of things could be aimed.)  To say, “The weapon is aiming at me,” we  would need to assume that the weapon is an intelligent type and it is aiming “itself,” the implied direct object.

2014/05/02
2:06pm
Robert
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That is a slippery grammatical slope. It is like to say that ‘Money is deposited in the bank’ makes good ‘Money is depositing in the bank,’   just because moneys are intelligent, which they are.

There are verb usages which seem to have transitioned from  being strictly transitive to intransitive: ‘The radio plays.’    But ‘aim,’  particularly with ‘at,’   is very much still transitive, screamingly.

2014/05/02
8:05pm
Dick
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Robert said
That is a slippery grammatical slope. It is like to say that ‘Money is deposited in the bank’ makes good ‘Money is depositing in the bank,’   just because moneys are intelligent, which they are.

I will argue that money is different from the weapons that can aim themselves because the weapons that Glenn, Heimhenge and I are talking about actually do have an artificial intelligence and can operate like a robot without the direct control of a human.

You may argue that money can do that, too, so just for curiosity, I Googled “money is depositing” and on the first three pages of results there were six financial websites that used that term to indicate money depositing itself.

2014/05/03
12:52am
Robert
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My poor  leg never seen a  harder pull  !!!      Six?    As in   123456  ?? 

To be serious, here are some surveys from Ngram:

money is deposited,money is depositing

weapon is aimed,weapon aims,weapon is aiming

 

My previous mention of the slippery slope was too gentle.  The usage in question was out right wrong.

2014/05/03
12:04pm
deaconB
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 The fact that a gun is aimed at something does not mean that thee is someone aiming it.  It’s always pointed at something, even it’s a pistol in the pocket of a jacket being tumble dried.

A few decades ago, my nephew was hunting by himself.  He tripped on a root, and his rifle landed in a tree.  All he could reach was the barrel, and as he tugged on it, a twig pulled the trigger, and a bullet glanced off a rib.  (Proving that guns don’t kill people, but they can wound them!)

Is “moneys” an alternate spelling of “monies”, like judgment/judgement, or are the different meanings, like the plural of rodent mouse is mice, but the plural of computer mouse is mouses?

2014/05/04
10:59am
Michael Sklaroff
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Thanks, all, for your responses.

Michael.

2014/05/04
8:57pm
Robert
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Michael, let me guess, from your English, you are not someone who is lacking of English grammar, are you?  Like, passive voice ??

Ha, cotcha!

That’s alright.

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