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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

Hi Rsb,

It's because finish is both intransitive and transitive, but postpone is transitive only. Here's a link to postpone in the Cambridge Dictionary - the 'T' after verb shows that it's transitive.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/postpone

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir,
Separate is also a transitive and intransitive verb?

If we use verb 'separate' as an intransitive, does it works as an action verb also or works as an state verb for example,

The couple separated after 25years of marriage.

Hi rsb,

Yes! Separate is transitive and intransitive, and it is an action verb in this example.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Jonathan sir,

How it is action verb in this context?
And
"meeting has started" how it is an action verb in this context also?

Hi Rsb,

The meaning of separate in this context is this (I quote it from the Cambridge Dictionary): 

  • to start to live in a different place from your husband or wife because the relationship has ended

It's an action verb because it means starting to live in a different place (not the state of living in a different place), and 'starting' something is an action. This is also why has started is an action verb in your second example.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much sir for making us clear on a often left topic.

Sir
Could we say like this
"many people got drowned when the ship overturned"
Using 'got' in the sentence and drowned as an adjective.

2nd "scare" is an ergative?

Hello Rsb,

Yes, you could say it that way.

You can find out this information yourself by checking the dictionary entry for 'scare'. When verbs are listed as 'I or T' (intransitive or transitive), they are usually ergative verbs.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir,

"Drown" can be both transitive and intransitive verb? Suppose,

1. He drowned me into the sea.-transitive verb
2. She drowned into the sea.- intransitive verb

Are these sentences correct?

Hello Rsb,

Yes, 'drown' can be transitive or intransitive. I'm afraid your sentences are not correct, however: you should use the preposition 'in' instead of 'into'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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