Ban on passive progressive

Thanks to Dale for sending this in, and saying “Is that fish supposed to be smoking? That doesn’t seem funny. Is it that it’s out of the bowl & sitting human fashion? Would that be funny? Are the other fish frowning or is that just resting fish face?”

Also I wondered, as did Dale, as did some commenters at goComics, whether this could have something to do with smoked fish.

That’s where the title about passive progressive comes in. It used to be that you weren’t supposed to say something like “Their house is being built currently”. And instead the recommended form was “Their house is a-building currently” or (slightly less eccentric sounding today) “Their house is building currently”. And by those rules, in place of “The fish is being smoked” you would have “The fish is smoking“. And voilà, here we have a picture of “The fish is smoking”.

Okay, in the spirit of supplementing the daily CIDU with entertaining musical clips, here is Cream doing “Strange Brew”:


  1. I think it’s just that the fish is taking a smoke break from its job of swimming around the bowl. And since smoking in the workplace is not allowed, it has to go outside to do it.

  2. I agree with Philip, but judging from the pack on the table (behind the fish), it looks like he’s attempting to smoke a whole pack, all at the same time.

    I disagree with all of those non-infinitive-splitting grammar “experts”. The syntax that sounds best is clearly “Their house is currently being built.” However, the image of “smoking fish” does suggest a feline alternative (sadly, in retroactive color):

  3. P.S. My guess is that “passive progressive” led to “progressive rock”, and thus to Cream’s “Strange Brew“, which was definitely more entertaining (and palatable) than the “King Crimson” clip that NPR served up to commemorate the death of Ian McDonald.

  4. @Kilby, I’m not sure what it is you’re tracing out in your second comment. But the path to the “Strange Brew” clip could simply be that that is the title of the comic panel by Deering.

  5. The fish has to go outside to smoke.

    Just as employees at today’s corporations must go outside and well away from the buildings to smoke.
    At my last employer, they had to exit the property and smoke on the public sidewalk.

  6. I think Philip (good name, and spelled correctly !:) ) and joel have it. It would have been easier to grok if the artwork wasn’t so blurry–at first glance, I though he was smoking a traffic cone, which made even less sense.

  7. In one office I worked in, the distance rule for employees who went outside to smoke was further from the front door than a public footpath, so members of the public were allowed to smoke closer to the building than employees were.

    And as for the “passive progressive rule” (a new one on me – must have a look to see what Gowers or Fowler have to say on it), it really does sound like a rule up with which I will not put.

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