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Tests to check whether a verb is transitive or not

asked 2017-01-30 09:47:00 -0500

karolbask gravatar image

I am looking for some tests to see whether a verb is transitive or not.

Here go some examples: - He grew up in a little farm - She picked up a card - I finished paying off my loan - The fish got off the hook - She keeps up with world events

Which of these verbs would be transitive and wich intransitive? Thank you in advance.

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answered 2017-07-28 15:17:01 -0500

Daniel Couto Vale gravatar image

The tests suggested above are useful grammatical tests for detecting transitive process verbs. However, transitivity is not a mere grammatical phenomenon. It has to do with the semantic notion of participation.

Being as succinct as I can, we can think of action verbs as verbs representing someone doing something. The action being performed is an affecting action if the person creates, alters, or destroys something and it is non-affecting if the person is born, changes or dies. As far as grammar is concerned, if all participants are represented in the clause, affecting actions are represented by transitive verbs and non-affecting actions are represented by intransitive verbs. Locations in time and space are not things that can be affected by actions. They are circumstances in which actions take place.

I hope this helps you notice when the grammatical tests work and when they don't.

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answered 2017-02-10 11:12:19 -0500

ksteimel gravatar image

If a passive construction does not make sense, you know that it at least is not transitive (However, it is not the case that all constructions that can be passivized are actually transitive. Inergative intransitives in English are also able to passivize "The building collapsed" can be rephrased as "The building was collapsed" just fine but this is also an intransitive)

So if you rephrase "He grew up in a little farm" as "In a little farm was grown up by him", we can see that the resulting sentence is ungrammatical and that, therefore, "grown up" is not a transitive verb.

If we rephrase "She picked up a card" as "A card was picked up (by her)", we can see that the result is grammatical and conclude that "picked up" could be a transitive verb. Because we have two arguments here (the thing picked up and the picker upper), we also know that it is indeed transitive and not an inergative.

I hope this clears things up. I can explain more thoroughly if you'd like.

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Asked: 2017-01-30 09:47:00 -0500

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Last updated: Feb 10