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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

Excuse me , what is the meaning of '' ergative " I cannot find it anywhere !

Hello FILOPOIMIN,

We divide verbs into two categories: transitive (with an object) and intransitive (without an object). For example:

I get up at 8.00. [no object = intransitive]
I met him yesterday. [with an object = transitive]

An ergative verb is a verb that can be both transitive and intransitive - it can be used with an object or without. For example:

I woke up at 6.00. [no object = intransitive]
I woke him up at 6.00. [with an object = transitive]

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

these  ergative   verbs always  trouble  learners . But with  this part, it's ok now.

"
"some verbs change their meaning slightly when they are have a reflexive pronoun as direct object:"
At the above line you have written "they are have a reflexive pronoun as direct object"
tell me please is it correct to say that THEY ARE HAVE ?

 Hi Alien Mars

Thanks for pointing that out - something slipped past the proof readers.

This site is still in 'beta' mode and so you may find other bugs and mistakes that have to be corrected. 

If you spot anything else, please let us know.

Thanks again

Jack Radford

The LearnEnglish Team

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