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Author Topic: Dealing with annoying English grammar errors (6th in a series of 14)  (Read 85 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: November 24, 2017, 08:05:12 AM »

This is the sixth in a series of 14 essays on what I consider as the most annoying English grammar errors. It is running consecutively here in the Forum from November 7, 2017 every Tuesday and Friday until December 22.

3 – Intransitive verbs forced to act as transitive ones

Ranking No. 5 among the 10 types of grammar errors that annoy me most are intransitive verbs forced to act as transitive ones. A very instructive example is the glaringly erroneous use of the intransitive verb “break” in the mangled idiomatic expression that appeared in a 2007 news story in a major Metro Manila daily: “President Arroyo said on Monday that the successful Asean and East Asian summit broke a new dawn for peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”

I’d like to emphasize that a natural phenomenon like “dawn” can’t be broken by some doer of a “breaking” action (transitive action); “dawn” just breaks whether we like it or not (intransitive action). In other words, “dawn” can’t be a legitimate direct object of the verb “broke” in that sentence precisely because it can’t be logically acted upon by that verb.

I therefore suggested replacing the intransitive “broke” with the transitive verb phrase “brought about” in the following rewrite of that problematic sentence: “President Arroyo said on Monday that the successful Asean and East Asian summit brought about a new dawn for peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”

To avoid or fix problems that arise when intransitive verbs are forced to act as transitive verbs, let’s take this opportunity to clearly distinguish once and for all between intransitive verbs and transitive verbs.





As we learn early in English grammar, intransitive verbs are in effect complete predicates. They don’t need a direct or indirect object to make a sentence express a complete thought, as in these two sentences: “The train arrived.” “The destructive species thrived.” In fact, intransitive verbs generally can’t take an object at all. Try putting an indirect or direct object after the verb in the two sentences above and see what happens.

In contrast, transitive verbs always need a complement—a direct object, an indirect object, or both—to receive its action and create a complete predicate, as in the following examples: “He raised the flag.” “She took the initiative.” Take out from these two sentences their direct objects, “flag” and “initiative,” and both sentences become meaningless: “He raised.” “She took.”




Now we should be ready to appreciate the problem with the following sentence that disconcertingly forces the intransitive verb “vow” to act transitively: “The foreign government vowed its full cooperation in tracing and recovering whatever assets the accused military official may have stashed abroad.” This example came from a story in a leading newspaper story sometime in 2005 and I dissected it in a column that took up intransitivity, but I am taking the liberty of using it again because of its highly instructive character.

My contention was that since “vowed” in that sentence is acting intransitively, it couldn’t possibly have the noun phrase “its full cooperation” as its direct object; that verb, after all, isn’t working in the same context as the comparable transitive verb “pledged” in the following construction: “The foreign government pledged its full cooperation in tracing and recovering whatever assets the accused military official may have stashed abroad.” Here, the noun phrase “its full cooperation” is a perfectly valid direct object of the verb “pledged.”

A good way to fix the problematic sentence is to take the verb “vow” in its transitive sense, in which case it can be used in either of these two forms: (1) “vow” + infinitive phrase, as in “The foreign government vowed to fully cooperate in tracing and recovering whatever assets the accused military official may have stashed abroad.”; or (2) “vow” + “that” + noun clause, as in “The foreign government vowed that it would fully cooperate in tracing and recovering whatever assets the accused military official may have stashed abroad.” This time, “to fully cooperate” and “that it would fully cooperate” are clearly serving as legitimate direct objects of the transitive verb “vow.”

We’ll take up more problems with intransitivity in the next installment of this series.

(Next: Intransitive verbs forced to act as transitives)   November 28, 2017

This essay, 6th in a series of 14, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the September 1, 2007 issue of The Manila Times. It subsequently formed part of the book The 10 Most Annoying English Grammar Errors, ©2008 by the author, © 2009 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: November 27, 2017, 06:38:09 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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