Grammar Wednesday

This post was inspired, because I lack imagination today, by opening my grammar students’ textbook at random and writing about what I find there.  I just happened to open to page 199, which teaches about transitive and intransitive verbs.

A sentence, to be complete, needs a subject and a verb, a capital letter at the beginning and some form of end punctuation, and it must express a complete thought.  It’s that “expressing a complete thought” bit that messes up most of my students – they find the subject and the verb, they find the beginning and end components, and they think they’re done.  Not so.  Take, for example, this structure:

I went to the post office and mailed.

We have a subject – I.  We have a couple of verbs joined by and – went and mailed.  We’ve got a capital letter and end punctuation, but what we don’t have is a complete thought – I went to the post office, check, but WHAT did I mail?  We need more information.  We need an object.

A transitive verb is one that requires an object to make sense of the sentence.   Mail, as a verb, requires an object; whatever it is that was mailed – a letter, a book, a bomb.  I teach the kids to ask “who or what” to find out if a verb is transitive.  “I went to the post office and mailed –  who or what? – a letter.”

An intransitive verb does not require an object to make sense.  “Mrs. Jessup sings.”  End of story – no more information is required.  We can certainly GIVE more information – Mrs. Jessup may sing opera or she may sing show tunes or she may sing badly – but we don’t NEED more information to make sense of the verb.

Sorry this week’s offering is kind of lame.  Remember that Grammar Wednesday fodder is always welcome!



Filed under Grammar

16 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. I never consider your “Grammar Wednesday” posts to be ‘lame.’ Here is an idea for you: a lesson on the CORRECT use of ‘who and whom.’

    I am in the midst of setting up my room and planning curriculum. My legal report date is one week away! As the saying goes: ‘the early bird catches the worm.’ Translation: custodians are more willing to help you move furniture this week. When all of us are back, they tend to disappear!!


  2. I picked up the newspaper today. On the front page, there was an article that begain with two (2) incomplete sentences in a row; and, they were typeset as two paragraphs. WTF?

  3. begain = beginning + calories, or something.

  4. Jackie

    I love Grammar Wednesdays! As for an idea, how about adverb use. My pet peeve is the signs that say “Drive Slow”.

    Save the Adverb!

  5. Jackie

    Argh – there should be a “?” after use, obviously. Sorry.

  6. Let’s not forget ditransitive verbs and the hypothetical – I don’t think one has ever been found – tritransitive verb.

    ‘Give’ and ‘put’ are ditransitive (‘give’ is optionally transitive in one sense only, as in ‘I don’t give a(n) (insert expletive)), they require an object and an indirect object.
    *He put the car
    *He put in the garage
    He put the car in the garage

    As for verbs that may optionally take an object, like sing in your example above, I think some have reasoned that they are inherently transitive, and that they drop the object in certain contexts. But of course, not all transitive verbs may drop their object, eat and devour exemplify this difference quite well.

    He ate
    *He devoured

  7. I like Grammar Wednesdays – they’re never lame.

    Working in marketing, however, I can tell you that I break grammar rules in ad copy ALL THE TIME. Sorry, it just happens. I think that’s probably what happened in the newspaper article referenced above, too – although without reading it, I can’t be sure.

  8. My dictionary lists “slow” as an adjective and an adverb. It’s been an adverb since Old English. English has two kinds of adverbs: those that end in “ly” and those that don’t. The latter kind are called flat adverbs. For example:
    I kicked the ball high.
    She turned me down flat.
    Drive fast.
    Drive slow.

  9. errata: “slow” wasn’t an adverb in Old English, it’s only been an adverb since the 15th century.

    Flat adverbs used to be a lot more common than they are now:

    … I was horrid angry, and would not go – Samuel Pepys, diary, 29 May 1667

    … the weather was so violent hot – Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, 119

    … the five ladies were monstrous fine – Jonathan Swift, Journal to Stella, 6 Feb. 1712

  10. Jackie

    John – thanks for the lesson. Off to do a little research…

  11. Jackie

    I found the following:
    only the first page of the article is available without a login, but still interesting reading.

  12. Terry

    Tritransitive verb: “bet”

    Bob bet John a dollar that the Mets would win the Series.

  13. About tritransitive verbs;

    “I bet Bob five pounds that Chelsea would beat Arsenal” is a tritransitive in English.

    There are three objects; “Bob” (an indirect object), “five pounds” (a direct object), and a complement clause “that Chelsea would beat Arsenal”.

    Also; “I traded Bob my Vespa for his Mini-Cooper”.
    Three objects: “Bob”, “my Vespa”, “his Mini-Cooper”.

    These are unusual tritransitives, cross-linguistically speaking, in that they are not causatives or benefactives of ditransitives. But most English tritransitives are like that.

    English doesn’t have morphological causatives as far as I know; and as far as I know the benefactive in English is always oblique, and may even always be an adjunct instead of an argument.


    But in some languages, “Abe made Bob give Charlie a dollar” is just one clause; a form of the verb “give” that means “made give” takes three objects, “Bob”, “Charlie”, and “a dollar”.

    And in some languages, “Abe gave a banana to Charlie for Doris” uses a form of “give” that takes three objects; “a banana”, “Charlie”, and “Doris”.


    If you causativize a benefactive, or put a benefactive in a causative, then if the original verb was transitive, the end result is tritransitive in some languages.
    “Bob called Claire”
    “Bob called Claire for Doris”
    “Abe made Bob call Claire for Doris”
    “Bob called Claire”
    “Abe made Bob call Claire”
    “Abe made Bob call Claire for Doris”.


    Also; there are languages (Hindi is one) in which a verb that is already causativized can be causativized a second time. In such a language “Abe made Bob make Charlie call Doris” can be just one clause, using a doubly-caustivized form of the verb “call” having a subject, “Abe”, and three objects, “Bob”, “Charlie”, and “Doris”.

  14. Nice, Tom.

    Depending on your analysis, you could say English has morphological causativisation of (some) stative predicates, like ‘blacken’, cause to be black. Also, and this is getting a bit more theoretically laden, you could analyse ‘kill’ as ’cause to die’, in which case it’s a supletive causative form of ‘die’.

    I find Hindi complex predicates pretty cool for their causative/inceptive/reflexive alternations. Embedding a verb inside ‘to fall’ produces an inceptive reading, whereas putting it with ‘to drop’ (or cause to fall), conveys a causative reading.

    cry + fall = start crying
    cry + drop = cause to cry

    Similarly, you can laugh + rise, meaning to burst out laughing, or you can laugh + pick up/raise (someone else) to mean cause to laugh, or crack someone up.

    By memory, there are plenty of these monovalent/bivalent causative alternations, like come/bring, go/take, that are used in Hindi and Urdu complex predicates.

  15. You know, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on things until YOU guys start going at it….

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