ERGATIVE VERBS:  (updated 12/4/09) 

 Elisa 文法講解 - 版權所有 


I have recently found an imposter, a copycat “eliza123” copying this article and reposting it to answer a question at 北大中文论坛, (see without referencing back to the source, my article.  I found it rather peculiar that she would use a nickname so close to my name.  If you see her posting any other article similar to mine, please notify me.  Please do not confuse her as me. 


This discovery led me to the decision to reread and update what I wrote previously to provide more clarification and to correct any misconception around the subject of “Ergative Verbs”.  Taking my articles out of context and reposting to another site without referencing back to my articles may result in misrepresentation, as I constantly update my  articles adding more details after discussions with friends and colleagues.    


I have also rewritten in a way to improve the sentence flow.  By the way, “Ergative Verbs” is a complicated subject.  I want to state that I am not a linguist and my article is based on what I learned over the years abroad and the reading from the grammar book “Functional English Grammar: An introduction to Second Language Teachers” by Graham Lock.  This article might not have the details you need but I hope that it provides some clarification around the usage of “Ergative Verbs”.          






不要假設只有生物才有主動語態,非生物全是被動語態。 在英語語言學,有一種動詞類別叫作格動詞,可以用於主動語態,中間語態, 或被動語態, 而作格動詞用於中間語態, 可以讓非生物顯現出類似主動語態。



ambitransitive 動詞一種可以同時是及物和不及物動詞.  作格動詞影響主詞, 一種具有及物非受格能的 ambitransitive 動詞, 它允許及物子詞成為不及物非受格的主詞 




In English linguistics, there is a category of verbs known as Ergative Verbs, which allow the three-voice option of active, middle or passive, with middle voice acting like an active voice.  In other word, ergative verbs can be used as active voice, middle voice or passive voice.  In addition an ergative verb affects the subject.  Examples of ergative verbs are: bend, break, change, close, collapse, condense, cook, develop, drop, drown, hang, increase, melt, open, shrink, sink, and etc. 



In English, it is hard to differentiate between a transitive and intransitive verb by its form.  You have to see how the verb is functioning within the sentence. In fact, a verb can be both transitive and intransitive and this type of verb is called an ambitransitive verb.  An ergative verb is an ambitransitive verb that has a transitive and an unaccusative use, which allows the object of a transitive clause to become the subject of an intransitive unaccusative clause without changing the voice of the verb. 


By the way, an intransitive verb does not require an object such as in the case of: "The building collapsed."  On the other hand, a transitive verb must be followed by a direct object such as in the case of: “The monster collapsed the building by sitting on it."


There are arguments around whether ergative and unaccusative verbs 非受格動詞 are one and the same.  I would say not, as unaccusatives verbs do not active subjects and often cannot appear transitively. 


Analysis of unaccusativity: 

1.  The train departed. -> He departed the train (X).  -> The train was departed (X). 

2.  The mail arrived. -> She arrive the mail (X).  -> The mail was arrived (X). 

3. The accident happened during rush hour. -> Mary happened the accident during rush hour (X). -> The accident was happened during rush hour (X).


Analysis of ergativity:

1.  The building collapsed. (Middle Voice acting like active voice)

=> building – unaccusative subject.  Verb – collapse (intransitive).

2.  The monster collapsed the building (active)

=> monster - subject.  Verb – collapse (transitive).  building – direct object.

3.  The building was collapsed by the monster (passive)


4. Mary drowned. (Middle Voice acting like active voice)

=> Mary – (subject.  Verb – drowned (intransitive).

=> Mary – affected. 

5. Mary drowned Tom in the tub. (Active Voice)

=> Mary - subject.  Verb – drowned (transitive).  Tom – object.

=> Mary – causer.  Tom – affected.

6. Tom was drowned (by Mary). (Passive Voice)

=> Tom – affected.  Mary – causer.


7.  The ice melted. (Middle)

=> ice - subject.  Verb – melte (intransitive). 

8. The sun melted the ice.  (Active)

=> sun - subject.  Verb – melted (transitive).  ice – object.

9.  The ice is melted by the sun.  (Passive)


10. The dress shrinks. (Middle Voice acting like active voice)

=> dress - subject.  Verb – shrink (intransitive).  

11.  The water shrinks the dress.  (Active Voice)

=> water - subject.  Verb – shrink (transitive).  dress – object.

12.  The dress is shrunk (by the water).  (Passive Voice)



13. The cake baked for an hour (Middle).

=> Cake – Subject.  Verb – bake (intransitive)

14. She baked the cake for an hour (Active)

=> She - subject.  Verb – bake (transitive).  Cake – object.

15. The cake was baked for an hour (Passive).


16. The fair opened on March 17 (M)

=> fair - subject.  Verb – open (intransitive). 

17. The host opened the fair on March 17(A)

=> host- subject.  Verb – open (transitive).  fair – object.

18. The fair was opened on March 17 (P)


19. This fact proves his guilt. (M)

20. A mosquito net hangs over his bed. (M)

21. The H1N1 flu spread in China. (M)



Below are some characteristics of ergative verbs:
Verbs suggesting a change of state — break, burn, burst, grow, melt, tear, moisten
Verbs of cooking — bake, boil, cook, fry
Verbs of movement — move, shake, sweep, turn, open, eject, march
Verbs involving vehicles — drive, fly, reverse, sail.




These are other references around ergative verbs: (list of ergative verbs).



These are other references around intransitive verbs, transitive verbs and passive voice:


Elisa 文法講解 - 版權所有



創作者 elisaenglish 的頭像

ELISA ENGLISH 英語園地 - 版權所有

elisaenglish 發表在 痞客邦 留言(0) 人氣()