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Ergative verbs

Level: intermediate

Ergative verbs are both transitive and intransitive. The object when it is transitive is the same as the subject when it is intransitive:

Peter closed the door.
The door
closed.
Transitive: N + V + N
Intransitive: N + V
I boiled some water.
The water
boiled.
Transitive: N + V + N
Intransitive: N + V

Common ergative verbs are:

begin
break
change
close
crack
drop
dry
end
finish
grow
improve
increase
move
open
shake
start
stop
tear
turn

 

I broke the glass.
I dropped the glass and it broke.

The referee started the match.
The match
started at 2.30.

We grew some tasty potatoes.
The potatoes
were growing well.

The wind shook the trees.
The trees
shook in the wind.

Verbs to do with cooking are often ergative:

bake
boil
cook
defrost
freeze
melt
roast
 

You should roast the meat at 200 degrees.
The meat
was roasting in a hot oven.

I always defrost meat before I cook it.
I am waiting for the meat
to defrost.

Melt the chocolate and pour it over the ice cream.
The chocolate
was melting in a pan.

Verbs to do with vehicles are often ergative:

back
crash
drive
fly
reverse

 
run
sail

 
start
stop

 

I'm learning to fly a plane.
The plane
flew at twice the speed of sound.

He crashed his car into a tree.
His car
crashed into a tree.
 

Some verbs are ergative with only a few nouns:

catch: dress, coat, clothes, trousers, etc.
fire: gun, pistol, rifle, rocket, etc.
play: music, guitar, piano, CD, DVD, etc.
ring: bell, alarm, etc.

She caught her dress on a nail.
Her dress
caught on a nail.

He fired a pistol to start the race.
A pistol
fired to start the race.

Shall we play some music?
Some music
played in the background.

There's a fire! Ring the alarm!
The fire alarm
rang at 11.42 a.m.

Ergative verbs 1

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Comments

No worries. Thanks Peter.

Hi Peter
Thanks so much for your explanation. Now I understand.

hi there
what is the meaning of point?
that is good point

Hello chris kim,

You can find the meaning of words and phrases in the dictionary – see the search box in the grey area on the right or at http://dictionary.cambridge.org/ .

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Teacher,
My question is if my understaing is right about Ergative verbs. In my understanding, the verbs refer back to the subject and as you said it changes slightly its meaning. For ex, Vinitha broke a glass - transitive, A glass broke - intransitive verb and the pistol fired, her dress caught. these are all Ergative verbs but we can not use all verbs like this, I never used like this i napped, the bell rang and some verbs are transitive but not intranstive for ex, Sam kissed Laura here
we can't say Laura kissed so Can i say this verb as a Ergative verb.

Thanks in advance,
Ramachandran. G

Hi Ranachandran G,

An ergative verb is one which can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on the context. For example, we can say:

The water boiled. [intransitive]

Paul boiled the water. [transitive]

Kissed is a transitive verb and cannot be used intransitively, so it is not an ergative verb.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglsh Team

Hi,
Is this sentence ok?

I really enjoyed with them

Hi Sridhar_45,

No, I'm afraid not. 'Enjoy' is a transitive verb, which means it needs an object:

I enjoyed the party.

I enjoyed the party with them.

I enjoyed it with them.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Do you have any lesson regarding with Basic Sentence Patterns? Thanks.

Hello dencasi,

We have a section entitled 'verb phrases' which could help you.  In the menu on the right you can find sub-pages on different aspects of the structures.

I hope that helps you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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