Today’s SOTD was uttered by my wife last night, while discussing the strange job of being a reality show host. (In this case, we were watching “So you think you can dance.”)
And you have to be generally likable by the public.
Here, we see a by-phrase that corresponds to the subject of a sentence like The public has to like you.
The question of whether true, passive-like by–phrases are possible with -able adjectives is an old and interesting one. While it is clear that by-phrases do occur with -able adjectives, the question has been whether these really correspond to the thematic subject of the underlying verb, or whether it is just a general prepositional phrase that introduces agents. Einar Freyr Sigurðsson and I have, in recent work on Icelandic, taken the position that these are by-phrases of the passive sort, where the interpretation of the by-phrase depends on the underlying verb, not on the preposition by.
One argument in favor of this, raised for nominalizations by Benjamin Bruening in his recent Syntax paper, is that the by-phrase is not necessarily an agent. Today’s SOTD is an example of this. Here, the by-phrase corresponds to an experiencer of the exact sort that we find as the subject in sentences with the active verb like.