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Intransitive verb: Wikis

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In grammar, an intransitive verb does not take an object. In more technical terms, an intransitive verb has only one argument (its subject), and hence has a valency of one. For example, in English, the verbs sleep and die, are intransitive. Some verbs, such as smell are both transitive and intransitive.

Some examples of sentences with intransitive verbs:

Harry will sleep until sunrise. (sleep has no object)
He died on Friday. (die has no object)
You smell. (smell has no object)

Contents

Valency-changing operations

In languages that have a passive voice, a transitive verb can be used in the passive voice in order to turn it into an intransitive one. For example, in the sentence "David hugs Mary," "hugs" is a transitive verb taking "Mary" as its object. The sentence can be passivized with the direct object "Mary" as the grammatical subject; this shift is called promotion of the object. The passive-voice construction cannot take an object. The sentence "Mary was hugged" could be continued with the agent: "Mary was hugged by David." It could not be continued with a direct object to be taken by "was hugged." For example, it would be ungrammatical to write "Mary was hugged her daughter" in order to show that Mary hugged her daughter.

Intransitive verbs can be passivized in some languages. In English, intransitive verbs can be used in the passive voice when a prepositional phrase is included.

The houses were lived in by millions of people

Some languages such as Dutch have an impersonal passive voice that allows for the passivization of an intransitive verb that does not have a prepositional phrase. A sentence such as "The children slept" can be passivized in German to remove the subject. The passivization can occur without a prepositional phrase, as in "The children slept in the bed," which, in English, could become "The bed was slept in by the children."

Ambitransitivity

In many languages, there are "ambitransitive" verbs, which can be either transitive or intransitive. For example, English play is ambitransitive (both intransitive and transitive), since it is grammatical to say His son plays, and it is also grammatical to say His son plays guitar. English is rather flexible with regards to verb valency, and so it has a high number of ambitransitive verbs; other languages are more rigid and require explicit valency changing operations (voice, causative morphology, etc.) to transform a verb from intransitive to transitive or vice versa.

In some ambitransitive verbs, called ergative verbs, the alignment of the syntactic arguments to the semantic roles is exchanged. An example of this is the verb break in English.

(1) I broke the cup.
(2) The cup broke.

In (1), the verb is transitive, and the subject is the agent of the action, i.e. the performer of the action of breaking the cup. In (2), the verb is intransitive and the subject is the patient of the action, i.e. it is the thing affected by the action, not the one that performs it. In fact, the patient is the same in both sentences, and sentence (2) is an example of implicit middle voice. This has also been termed an anticausative.

Other alternating intransitive verbs in English are change and sink.

In the Romance languages, these verbs are often called pseudo-reflexive, because they are signaled in the same way as reflexive verbs, using the clitic particle se. Compare the following (in Spanish):

(3a) La taza se rompió. ("The cup broke.")
(3b) El barco se hundió. ("The boat sank.")
(4a) Ella se miró en el espejo. ("She looked at herself in the mirror.")
(4b) El gato se lava. ("The cat washes itself.")

Sentences (3a) and (3b) show Romance pseudo-reflexive phrases, corresponding to English alternating intransitives. As in The cup broke, they are inherently without an agent; their deep structure does not and can not contain one. The action is not reflexive (as in (4a) and (4b)) because it is not performed by the subject; it just happens to it. Therefore, this is not the same as passive voice, where an intransitive verb phrase appears, but there is an implicit agent (which can be made explicit using a complement phrase):

(5) The cup was broken (by the child).
(6) El barco fue hundido (por piratas). ("The boat was sunk (by pirates).")

Other ambitransitive verbs (like eat) are not of the alternating type; the subject is always the agent of the action, and the object is simply optional. A few verbs are of both types at once, like read: compare I read, I read a magazine, and this magazine reads easily.

Unaccusative and unergative verbs

Especially in some languages, it makes sense to classify intransitive verbs as:

  • unaccusative when the subject is not an agent; that is, it does not actively initiate the action of the verb (e.g. "die", "fall").
  • unergative when they have an agent subject (e.g. "run", "talk", "resign").

This distinction may in some cases reflect by the grammar, where for instance different auxiliary verbs may be used for the two categories.

Cognate objects

In many languages, including English, some or all intransitive verbs can take cognate objects—objects formed from the same roots as the verbs themselves; for example, the verb sleep is ordinarily intransitive, but one can say, "He slept a troubled sleep", meaning roughly "He slept, and his sleep was troubled."

See also

References

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