A New Approach to English Grammar, on Semantic Principles

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

11
She gave him a look, they both had a laugh and then took a stroll. GIVE A VERB, HAVE A VERB and TAKE A VERB constructions

Parallel to Mary walked in the garden we can say Mary had a walk in the garden. Here the verb have substitutes for walk, and takes tense inflection. The original verb base walk now functions as head of an NP which follows have, with the singular indefinite article a. The locational phrase in the garden is carried over unaltered. These two sentences, Mary walked in the garden and Mary had a walk in the garden, have a similar meaning; there is, however, a definite and predictable semantic difference, which we discuss in §11.3.

There is also the TAKE A VERB construction, built on similar principles--compare John kicked at the ball and John took a kick at the ball. TAKE A VERB, like HAVE A VERB, is most frequently used with intransitive verbs (there are exceptions, discussed in §11.2). The GIVE a VERB construction differs in that it most often involves a transitive verb, e.g. Mary punched John and Mary gave John a punch. Here give substitutes for the original verb, which becomes (in base form) the head of a 'second object' NP, again preceded by the indefinite article a.

Many verbs occur with HAVE A, TAKE A and GIVE A, but there are many others which resist use in such constructions. Compare the following samples:

Possible Impossible
have a walk in the garden*have an arrive at the gate
have a swim in the river*have a cross over the bridge
have a sit-down on the sofa*have a settle-down in the country

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