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Author Topic: Dealing with annoying English grammar errors (7th in a series of 14)  (Read 68 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: November 27, 2017, 08:26:56 PM »

This is the seventh 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 can’t take objects but do take complements

Before resuming our discussion on the problems that arise when intransitive verbs are forced to act transitively, I would like to share a very interesting feedback about intransitive verbs from a reader in the United States who identified himself only as “Pollux.”  




Recall that in the previous discussion of No. 5 of the 10 types of grammar errors that annoy me most, I emphasized that intransitive verbs generally can’t take an object. To prove that this is so, I asked readers to verify for themselves by trying to put a direct or indirect object after the intransitive verbs in these two sentences: “The train arrived.” “The destructive species thrived.” We found that it just can’t be done in both cases, proof that a direct or indirect object has no place in the scheme of things for intransitive verbs.


               IMAGE CREDIT: WOODWARD ENGLISH


At any rate, Pollux said that while I was correct in saying that intransitive verbs are in effect complete predicates, it isn’t necessarily true that they can’t take objects at all. To demonstrate his point, he attached certain phrases to my two sample sentences above, as follows:

(1) “The train arrived rather late than usual.” (2) “The train arrived at the wrong terminal.”

(3) “The destructive species thrived despite the inhospitable environment.” (4) “The destructive species thrived while the good ones perished.”

Pollux contended that “rather late than usual” in (1), “at the wrong terminal” in (2), “despite the inhospitable environment” in (3), and “while the good ones perished” in (4) are each an object of the intransitive verb before it, thus disproving my claim that intransitive verbs can’t take objects at all.

The phrases Pollux added to the two sentences are, of course, perfectly valid complements*, which we will recall are words or phrases used after a verb to complete a predicate construction. However, I must point out that none of those add-on phrases is a direct or indirect object. While direct objects and indirect objects are also complements, their grammatical functions are different from those of the complements Pollux has supplied.

A direct object, we will recall, is a noun or pronoun that receives the verb’s action or shows the result of that action, while an indirect object indicates to whom or for whom the verb’s action is done or who is receiving the direct object. In the sentence “She gave him the book,” for instance, the noun “book” is the direct object or receiver of the action of the verb “gave,” while the pronoun “him” is the indirect object of that verb, telling us to whom the book was given.




Now we’re ready to evaluate Pollux’s sentences.

Sentence 1: “The train arrived rather late than usual.” Here, the phrase “rather late than usual” is neither a direct nor indirect object of the verb “arrived.” It doesn’t receive that verb’s action, and it doesn’t tell us either to whom or for whom the action was done. It is, in fact, simply an adverbial phrase describing the manner of the train’s arrival.

Sentence 2: “The train arrived at the wrong terminal.” The phrase “at the wrong terminal” here is also neither a direct nor indirect object but a prepositional phrase indicating the point in space where the train arrived. Remember that a prepositional phrase consists of a preposition and its object, and the one we have here is working as an adverb modifying the verb “arrived.”

Sentence 3: “The destructive species thrived despite the inhospitable environment.” Here, “despite the inhospitable environment” is another prepositional phrase, one that puts forth an idea in opposition to the “thriving” aspect. It’s neither a direct nor indirect object of the verb “arrived” but simply its adverbial modifier.

Sentence 4: “The destructive species thrived while the good ones perished.” The phrase “while the good ones perished” here is neither a direct nor indirect object of the verb “thrived.” It’s actually a subordinate clause linked to the main clause “the destructive species thrived” by the subordinating conjunction “while.”

Clearly, then, Pollux’s add-on phrases aren’t direct or indirect objects at all, thus disproving his contention that intransitive verbs like “arrived” and “thrived” can actually take direct or indirect objects.

(Next: Troublesome, often-misused verb-pairs)   December 1, 2017

This essay, 7th in a series of 14, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the September 8, 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.

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*In English grammar, a complement is defined as a word, phrase or clause that is necessary to complete the meaning of a given expression. Direct objects and indirect objects are also classified as complements, but only transitive verbs can have complements in the form of direct objects or indirect objects.
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