A New Approach to English Grammar, on Semantic Principles

By R. M. W. Dixon | Go to book overview

8
I kicked at the bomb, which exploded, and wakened you up. Transitivity and causatives
Some languages have a strict division of verbs into transitive-- those that take A (transitive subject) and O (transitive object) core syntactic relations--and intransitive--those that have just one core syntactic relation, S (intransitive subject). A few languages even employ morphological marking so that there can never be any doubt as to whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, e.g. if a verb in Fijian shows a transitive suffix then it must have an object; if it lacks this suffix there will be no direct object.Transitivity is a much more fluid matter in English. There are, it is true, a number of verbs that are strictly transitive, e.g. like, promote, recognise, inform, and a few that are strictly intransitive, e.g. arrive, chat, matter. But many verbs in English may be used either transitively or intransitively.There are two kinds of correspondence between the syntactic relations of intransitive and transitive constructions:
i. those for which S = A, e.g. She's following (us), Have you eaten (lunch)?, He's knitting (a jumper), I won (the game);
ii. those for which S = O, e.g. The ice melted/Ivan melted the ice, Mary's arm hurts/John hurt Mary's arm, Fred tripped up/Jane tripped up Fred, Tim is working hard/Tim's boss is working him hard.

If the transitive version is taken as prior for (i), then we can say that the intransitive version is obtained by omitting the object, and that this is possible for some--but not all--transitive verbs in English. If the intransitive construction is taken as prior for (ii), then we can say that the transitive is a causative version of the

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