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
Transitive: N + V + N
Intransitive: N + V
I boiled some water.
The water
Transitive: N + V + N
Intransitive: N + V

Common ergative verbs are:



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:


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:





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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Hello Preeti J,

Reflexive verbs are also used without reflexive pronouns, but in that case they're not considered reflexive verbs. For example, in 'I cut myself with a knife by accident', 'cut myself' is reflexive, but in 'I cut the onion with a knife', 'cut' is not reflexive.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ugurfidan on Fri, 05/05/2017 - 08:59

Hello everyone, I have just studied "reflexive verbs in english" in my grammar book and then I came here. I have been learning english by myself for about one year. During this time I read and wrote a lot of sentences which have reflexive verbs without knowing they are "reflexive verbs". But I could understand their meaning from the context. My mother language is Turkish, and Turkish has also reflexive verbs and pronouns as a concept. Of course grammar rules are different from english but if your mother language has this grammar rule as a consept (I think it has definitely has) you already use them.

Submitted by biplab1 on Wed, 12/04/2017 - 09:45

There are more example of pronouns which are used reflexively, I expect more examples from you. Please give more example using sentence.

Hello biplab1,

You can find more examples on our reflexive pronouns page. A quick internet search will also give you many more if those aren't enough for you.

Best regards,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by naghmairam on Fri, 13/01/2017 - 07:27

Hi, What is the difference between 'change to' and change into''?

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 14/01/2017 - 07:34

In reply to by naghmairam


Hi naghmairam,

Generally, 'change to' suggests choosing or switching to an alternative, while 'change into' suggests a change in form:

My GPS has changed to a new route.

The wizard changed his cat into a dragon.

However, context is important here and there may be some common uses which do not fit this pattern.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dlis on Tue, 13/12/2016 - 15:45

Hello sir, What's the meaning of this, What was done is done. (My confusion is structure) Thank you.

Hello dlis,

This means that 'the thing that was done' ('what was done') has been done or is finished. 'What was done' is a cleft structure and 'is done' is the verb plus a past participle being used as an adjective.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nizam Balinese on Tue, 13/09/2016 - 10:39

Hi Team. Could you help me to make a example with the reflexive pronoun 'yourselves', please? I'm quite difficult to find it. Thanks.

Submitted by James1981Sar on Mon, 29/08/2016 - 18:51

Good evening, I still have some problems with reflexive pronouns when the subject is "a person", "an individual", or something like that. In the following sentence, for example, what would the correct option be? "to be an individual who fulfills themselves/himself-herself/oneseself" Thank you in advance for your help.

Hello James1981Sar,

'An individual' is a non-specific in terms of gender and the standard pronoun to use in such cases is 'them' rather than 'he or she'. Therefore we would normally say 'to be an individual who fulfills themselves'.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Arafat on Mon, 27/06/2016 - 11:40

Hi, Can an intransitive verb take reflexive pronoun as its object? For example: 1. They sat them down. 2. Vaulting ambition which o'er leaps itself. --- Shakespeare In the above examples, though the verbs are intransitive, they are taking objects with them. Is there any exception under which an intransitive verb can have its object?

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 27/06/2016 - 17:56

In reply to by Arafat


Hello arafatmgr,

The verb 'sit' can be both transitive and intransitive – see its entry in the Cambridge Dictionary – and in the sentence you ask about it, it is transitive. 'them' is not a reflexive pronoun, but rather an object pronoun. But even with the reflexive pronoun 'themselves', it would still be a transitive verb because it has 'themselves' as an object.

'leap' is an intransitive verb in modern English. I'm not completely sure, but I'd say that here it is as well. 'over itself' is adverbial rather than an object, I'd say, though I'd have to check with a specialist in syntax to confirm that.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hugong on Wed, 16/03/2016 - 22:02

Hi Sir, I have confusion about the Ergative verb when it's used without object. For example, 'a gun fired' what does it mean and is the verb in past tense and is it in active voice which means a gun fired by itself? I always think that it should be rewritten as 'a gun is fired' which is a passive voice since obviously the gun cannot pull the trigger by itself but someone else. Also can I rewrite it as 'a gun fired by someone' and would this be grammatically correct? And what is the difference between 'a gun fired' and 'a gun is fired' The second example i confused about is 'I'm waiting for the meat to defrost'. Again I would always say that 'I'm waiting for the meat to be defrosted' as I think that some action must be done to the meat for it to defrost which sounds more like passive. Could you please point out my mistake above as I couldn't figure it out? Thank you very much

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 17/03/2016 - 06:36

In reply to by Hugong


Hi Hugong,

Words are used in different ways to express ideas. It is quite correct to say both 'a gun was fired' (meaning a person did it) and 'a gun fired' (meaning that it happened, but without information about how). THe second formulation is particularly useful, for example, when someone drops a gun and the impact causes it to fire, but it can be used in 'normal' contexts too.

The key is that we often attribute agency to objects, even though they are really not capable of it. For example, if a person has problems with their car then they might say 'My car doesn't want to start' or 'My car refuses to start'. Obviously, the car is a machine which has no desires or feelings, but we describe it in this way. Language is colourful and creative, but not always entirely logical, I'm afraid.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team 

Hi Peter Thanks for your quick response. Now I understand the logic - " language is colourful but not always logical" totally agree. But just one more question. Is the form "a gun fired" is an ellipses form of "a gun is fired" where "is" is understood and is omitted? Or it's just a completely different sentence structure? And is it correct to say "a gun fired by someone" to add in the agent part? (I know it can be done with passive voice)

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 20/03/2016 - 07:28

In reply to by Hugong


Hi Hugong,

The form can be a shortened passive, as you say, but it can also be an intransitive verb. For example, we can say that 'a gun fired' when there is a malfunction in an empty room (and so nobody is involved). In other words, 'fire' is a true ergative verb.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter Thanks so much for your explanation. Now I understand.
Hi Peter, Just another question. Can the Ergative verb be followed by a conjuction/subordinating conjunction with active/passive voice? Eg 1)the window opened and was closed by the owner afterwards 2) the window opened and the owner closed it afterwards 3) the window opened and closed up afterwards Which of theses sentences are correct?

Hello Hugong,

All of those sentences are possible, though the last sentence should be without 'up'.

Although we're happy to try to help users with various points of grammar, we really can't deal with multiple questions from single users on particular points like this. I hope you understand - we have many users with questions and it's hard to deal with all of them!


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by chris kim on Sun, 28/02/2016 - 16:25

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

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 29/02/2016 - 06:55

In reply to by chris kim


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,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ko on Sun, 26/07/2015 - 04:14

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,


The LearnEnglsh Team

Submitted by Sridhar_45 on Wed, 23/07/2014 - 18:40

Hi, Is this sentence ok? I really enjoyed with them

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 23/07/2014 - 20:34

In reply to by Sridhar_45


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,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dencasi on Fri, 14/03/2014 - 22:31

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,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi! Sir. First, thank you for the reply. I do really appreciate it a lot. I speak English ever since I'm 7 years old (I live with the Americans since I'm 6 yrs. of age) and now I'm having a hard time to identifying, naming, classifying and understanding why the function of a word/phrase or clauses, is that way. But whenever I take some exercises here in British Council, I can get a high score, but then when it comes to I identifying, etc. in the sentence. It really giving me a hard time and it really affect my grades (I'm majoring in English). I hope you can help me. :D :) Thanks :)

Hi dencasi,

As I mentioned in my reply to your other comment, I'd encourage you to make the most you can of diagramming sentences. It's great that you get high scores when you actually use English grammar - that confirms that you actually know how to use grammar to communicate. The diagramming is a completely different kind of exercise, which perhaps you don't consider useful. But as I said in my other comment, try to find something useful in it, as surely there are lots of things you can learn from it.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by FILOPOIMIN on Fri, 01/11/2013 - 15:50

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

Submitted by kanhaiya singh on Fri, 25/01/2013 - 12:02


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