|Transitivity and Valency|
A transitive verb is a verb that takes one or more objects. This contrasts with intransitive verbs, which do not have objects. Transitive verbs may be further divided by the number of objects they occur with.
While all verbs that take at least one object are considered transitive, verbs can be further classified by the number of objects they take. Verbs that require only two arguments, a subject and a single direct object, are sometimes called monotransitive. Verbs that are able to take two objects, a direct object and an indirect object, are called "ditransitive", or less commonly "bitransitive". An example of a transitive verb in English is the verb to give, which may feature a subject, an indirect object, and a direct object: John gave Mary the book.
There are also a few verbs that take three objects. These are sometimes called "tritransitive". In English a tritransitive verb features an indirect object, a direct object, and a prepositional phrase – as in I'll trade you this bicycle for your binoculars – or else a clause that behaves like an argument – as in I bet you a pound that he has forgotten. Not all descriptive grammars recognize tritransitive verbs.
A clause with a prepositional phrase that expresses a meaning similar to that usually expressed by an object may be called "pseudo-transitive". For example, the Indonesian sentences Dia masuk sekolah ("He attended school") and Dia masuk ke sekolah ("He went into the school") have the same the verb (masuk "enter"), but the first sentence has a direct object while the second has a prepositional phrase in its place. A clause with a direct object plus a prepositional phrase may be called "pseudo-ditransitive", as in the Lakhota sentence Haŋpíkčeka kiŋ lená wé-čage ("I made those moccasins for him"). Such constructions are sometimes called "complex transitive". The category of complex transitives includes not only prepositional phrases but also dependent clauses, appostives, and other structures. There is some controversy regarding "complex transitives" and "tritransitives"; linguists do not agree on the nature of the structures.
In contrast to transitive verbs, some verbs take zero objects. Verbs that do not require an object are called intransitive verbs. An example in English is the verb to die.
Verbs that can be used in an intransitive or transitive way are called ambitransitive verbs. In English, an example is the verb to eat; the sentences You eat (with an intransitive form) and You eat apples (a transitive form that has apples as the object) are both grammatically correct.
The concept of valency is related to transitivity. The valency of a verb considers all the arguments the verb takes, including both the subject and all of the objects. In contrast to valency, the transitivity of a verb only considers the objects. Subcategorization is roughly synonymous with valency, though they come from different theoretical traditions.
Lexical versus grammatical information
Traditionally, transitivity patterns are thought of as lexical information of the verb, but recent research in construction grammar and related theories has argued that transitivity is a grammatical rather than a lexical property, since the same verb very often appears with different transitivity in different contexts. Consider:
- Does your dog bite? (no object)
- The cat bit him. (one object)
- Can you bite me a piece of banana? (two objects)
- The vase broke. (no object; anticausative construction)
- She broke the toothpick. (one object)
- Can you break me some toothpicks for my model castle? (two objects)
- Stop me before I buy again. (no object; antipassive construction)
- The man bought a ring. (one object)
- The man bought his wife a ring. (two objects)
The following sentences exemplify transitive verbs in English. (Direct objects are in italic; indirect objects are underlined.)
- We are going to make a bigger boat.
- Do they have pie?
- He makes delicious pasta with jam sauce.
- Yves gave Zora a book for her birthday.
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