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Ambitransitive English Verbs

Ambitransitive English Verbs

Verbs are traditionally defined as “words that describe actions or states of being.” Main or principal English verbs may be either intransitive or transitive. Ambitranitive verbs are English verbs that may be either transitive/ditransitive or intransitive depending on the context. Ambitransitive verbs can occur within passive constructions when transitive or ditransitive. Most English verbs are ambitransitive rather than purely intransitive or transitive.

Some common ambitransitive English verbs include the following:

  • break
  • cook
  • drink
  • open
  • pay
  • paint
  • read
  • sink

For example:

  • The workers painted yesterday. (intransitive)
  • My daughter painted her fingernails pink. (attributive ditransitive)
  • The man behind you already paid. (intransitive)
  • I paid the waiter for the broken glasses. (monotransitive)
  • The boat sank. (intransitive)
  • The German U-boat sank the British ship. (monotransitive)
  • The door opened. (intransitive)
  • He opened me a soda. (ditransitive)

Many English phrasal verbs are ambitransitive. Phrasal verbs are a common English verb form that consist of a verb followed by a p-word that functions as a particle. For example:

  • The baby woke up. (intransitive)
  • I woke the baby up. (transitive)
  • My dog threw up. (intransitive)
  • My dog threw up his dinner. (transitive)
  • The numbers do not add up. (intransitive)
  • Can you add up the numbers? (transitive)

Ambitransitive verbs can occur within passive constructions when transitive or ditransitive. The English language has two grammatical voices: active and passive. The active voice allows speakers to form sentences in which the grammatical subject performs the action of or acts upon the verb functioning as the predicate. The passive voice allows speakers to form sentences in which a direct or indirect object moves into the subject position. When transitive, ambitransitive verbs in active constructions can shift into the passive voice. For example:

  • Mom cooked. (intransitive, active voice)
  • *Was cooked by Mom. (intransitive, passive voice)
  • Mom cooked Thanksgiving dinner. (transitive, active voice)
  • Thanksgiving dinner was cooked by Mom. (transitive, passive voice)
  • Mom cooked us Thanksgiving dinner. (ditransitive, active voice)
  • Thanksgiving dinner was cooked for us by Mom. (transitive, passive voice)

Ambitranitive verbs are English verbs that may be either transitive/ditransitive or intransitive depending on the context. Ambitransitive verbs can occur within passive constructions when transitive/ditransitive.

Summary

Ambitranitive verbs in English grammar are verbs that may be either transitive/ditransitive or intransitive depending on the context.

Ambitranitive verb is a grammatical form. Attributive ditransitive verbs belong to a subcategory of the grammatical form verb.

Ambitransitive verbs can occur within passive constructions when transitive/ditransitive.

References

Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

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