Alternations of English

Alternations
Alternation name Description Examples Verbs
U
n A canonically transitive verb appears in this derived pattern without an overt object, usually implying a specific kind of expected object. Levin (1993) terms this "Unspecified Object Alternation". It is to be distinguished from the Understood Reflexive Object alternation.
(2)
He was still eating when I arrived.
he
he
was
was
still
still
eating
eating
when
when
I
I
arrived
arrived
‘He was still eating when I arrived.’
10
C
y A transitive physical activity verb with an agentive subject appears with a reflexive pronoun instead of a regular direct object, e.g. I cut myself, implying an accidental outcome. The locus of the effect can be, and commonly is, indicated by an optional on-phrase with a body-part word, e,g, I cut myself on the finger.
(10)
I burnt myself on the hand.
I
I
burnt
burnt
myself
myself
on
on
the
the
hand
hand
‘I burnt myself on the hand.’
4
U
n A (basic) intransitive predicate depicting a state or something happening ('S is like this' or 'something happened to S') alternates with a (nonbasic) transitive predicate taking an agentive or agent-like subject. The transitive sentences depicts a change to the patient caused by the agent's action.
(6)
The fire burnt the house down.
the
the
fire
fire
burnt
burnt
the
the
house
house
down
down
‘The fire burnt the house down.’
5
U
n A verb that normally takes a patient object (if transitive) or undergoer subject (if intransitive) is used intransitively with an evaluative manner adverb and a generic interpretation, e.g. The thesis reads/read well. I have included instrument-subject, e.g. This knife cuts well under this heading, rather than under Instrument Subject alternation, because the latter can be used to depict an individual event.
(8)
Kindling burns well but it doesn't last long.
kindling
kindling
burns
burns
well
well
but
but
it
it
does
does
not
not
last
last
long
long
‘Kindling burns well but it doesn't last long.’
4
C
y A transitive verb appears with a plural subject and no direct object, implying that the activity was undertaken reciprocally. If there are only two participants, a conjoined subject usually provides a close equivalent, e.g. They hugged vs. John and Mary hugged, but it is also possible for the subject to represent multiple participants, e.g. They all hugged.
(216)
The children were playing nicely together.
the
the
children
children
were
were
playing
playing
nicely
nicely
together
together
‘The children were playing nicely together.’
5
C
y The main verb have combines with a "semi-verbal" complement that appears with an indefinite article. 'S had a VP(nominal)' implies 'S VP', e.g. He had a look at my stamp collection implies He looked at my stamp collection. It normally implies the activity took a short time, lacked an external goal and was repeatable; something like pleasurability or benefit is also often implied.
(14)
I haven't had a hug in months.
I
I
have
have
not
not
had
had
a
a
hug
hug
in
in
months
months
‘I haven't had a hug in months.’
6
U
n A possessive body-part NP appears as direct object of a physical activity or action verb, with the possessor understood to refer to the subject of the verb. The default interpretation is that the outcome was accidental.
(17)
He cut his face while shaving.
he
he
cut
cut
his
his
face
face
while
while
shaving
shaving
‘He cut his face while shaving.’
3
U
n The subject NP designates an inanimate object which is not an instrument in the normal sense. For example, consider a sentence like The glass cut her hand. It implies that a "cutting" effect was produced when a sharp part of the subject came into contact with the patient. 0
U
n A transitive verb that normally takes an agent and an optional instrument, means or medium appears with the instrument or means as subject, e.g. The key opened the door, The hammer broke the window, Water filled the tub (Levin 1993: 80). Differs from a Middle with an instrument subject in that the former is confined to generic interpretations.
(19)
A good knife cuts well, offers a good grip, and isn't too heavy to hold.
a
a
good
good
knife
knife
cuts
cuts
well
well
offers
offers
a
a
good
good
grip
grip
and
and
is
is
not
not
too
too
heavy
heavy
to
to
hold
hold
‘A good knife cuts well, offers a good grip, and isn't too heavy to hold.’
4
U
n A verb depicting a non-verbal expressive act takes an additional argument designating the "target" of the expressive act, e.g. She smiled/frowned/laughed at him.
(23)
They laughed at me.
they
they
laughed
laughed
at
at
me
me
‘They laughed at me.’
1
U
n A verb involving bodily motion, either intransitive e.g. crawl or transitive, e.g. carry, takes a PP with preposition on and a body-part designating the locus on contact. This is distinct from a regular body-part "instrument" both semantically (because in this construction the body-part does not play an active role) and formally (because the instrumental body-part normally occurs with preposition with).
(33)
He carried it on his back.
he
he
carried
carried
it
it
on
on
his
his
back
back
‘He carried it on his back.’
1
U
n Certain verbs (incl. carry, sleep, hold) can take a locational subject and a complement indicating that location's capacity with respect to the event depicted by the verb, e.g. Five people can sleep in this room ~ This room sleeps five people. Cf. Levin 1993: 82. 0
U
n With verb of transfer of possession, in the basic pattern, the thing transferred is direct object with the recipient (or intended recipient) in a PP headed by preposition to; in the nonbasic pattern, the recipient appears as direct object in postverbal position with the thing transferred following as an unmarked second object.
(94)
She sent her grandmother flowers.
she
she
sent
sent
her
her
grandmother
grandmother
flowers
flowers
‘She sent her grandmother flowers.’
6
C
y The main verb get combines with a "semi-verbal" complement that appears with an indefinite article, as in the Have-a-VP alternation. 'S got a VP(nominal)' implies 'S VP'.
(46)
I got a good look at him.
I
I
got
got
a
a
good
good
look
look
at
at
him
him
‘I got a good look at him.’
1
U
n An experience verb like look (at) or smell can take either the experiencer as subject with stimulus as object (this is the basic frame), or stimulus as subject, an evaluative complement, and the experiencer (if present) appears in a to-phrase, e.g. It smelt good to me.
(44)
The girl looked good (to me).
the
the
girl
girl
looked
looked
good
good
(to
(to
me)
me)
‘The girl looked good (to me).’
2
U
n A verb of speech or thought takes a direct quotation, rather than an indefinite complement; e.g. He said something, vs. He said: "Get out".
(65)
He said, "Sorry, I have to leave early".
he
he
said
said
sorry
sorry
I
I
have
have
to
to
leave
leave
early
early
‘He said, "Sorry, I have to leave early".’
2
A verb of saying, thinking, or knowing takes a "that-complement", i.e. a sentential complement introduced by that, rather than an indefinite complement. For example, He said that she was at home vs. He said something about her.
(66)
He said that he had to go.
he
he
said
said
that
that
he
he
had
had
to
to
go
go
‘He said that he had to go.’
4
U
n Some verbs of physical affect, perhaps predominantly verbs depicting effects on the human body, can take abstract subjects depicting illnesses, social conditions, and the like, e.g. Obesity (loneliness, unemployment) can kill, or events, e.g. The explosion (fire, etc.) killed dozens of people. There are reasons to believe that this is a distinct polysemic extension of the primary kill meaning; for example, no instrument is possible.
(101)
Obesity can kill.
obesity
obesity
can
can
kill
kill
‘Obesity can kill.’
1
U
n Verbs like wash and dress and other verbs of "caring for the body", whose primary frame is transitive, frequently appear without any overt object (in a nonbasic frame), with the implication that the subject washes, dresses, etc., him or herself (Levin 1993: 35f). Notice though that an explicit reflexive is either odd (e.g. She dressed herself - implies that usually someone else does it) or anomalous (e.g. She flossed herself).
(114)
I hadn't washed in a week.
I
I
had
had
not
not
washed
washed
in
in
a
a
week
week
‘I hadn't washed in a week.’
3
U
n A transitive verb implying affect caused by physical contact with a body-part takes an NP designating a person as its direct object, and the locus of contact with that person's body appears in a prepositional phrase with on or in, e.g. She touched him on the shoulder. Levin (1993) termed this Body-Part Possessor Ascension. It generally implies a "feel" component, either on behalf of the affected person or as part of the agent's intention, e.g. She kissed him on the cheek (as he slept).
(126)
She touched him on the shoulder.
she
she
touched
touched
him
him
on
on
the
the
shoulder
shoulder
‘She touched him on the shoulder.’
2
U
n A canonically transitive verb implying physical affect, via motion and contact, appears without a direct object, but the expected direct object appears in a PP introduced by at. The frame implies an attempted action. 0
U
n Occurs with instrument-taking transitive verb: the semantic instrument appears as the direct object, while a PP introduced by against (or sometimes on) identifies the thing with which the instrument came into contact, e.g. He hit the stick against the fence.
(134)
He hit the stick against the fence.
he
he
hit
hit
the
the
stick
stick
against
against
the
the
fence
fence
‘He hit the stick against the fence.’
1
U
n A verb occurs freely in both transitive and intransitive frames, e.g. break and burn. It is difficult to establish either frame as the primary one. Sometimes I was unsure whether to assign a verb to the Ambitransitive or whether to define a more specific alternation.
(151)
Her skin was peeling.
her
her
skin
skin
was
was
peeling
peeling
‘Her skin was peeling.’
8
U
n A transitive verb takes an additional post-verbal object designating a person when benefited from the action, e.g. They cooked me dinner.
(147)
The team built the old lady a new house.
the
the
team
team
built
built
the
the
old
old
lady
lady
a
a
new
new
house
house
‘The team built the old lady a new house.’
2
U
n A verb of physical affect which depicts part of a larger object being removed or separated from that object can take a PP introduced by off or from, indicating the identity of the the larger object. With some verbs, e.g. peel, use of this frame can be regarded as a genuine alternation; compare He peeled the orange vs. He peeled the skin off the orange.
(150)
He peeled the bark off the stick.
he
he
peeled
peeled
the
the
bark
bark
off
off
the
the
stick
stick
‘He peeled the bark off the stick.’
2
U
n A transitive action or activity verb whose normal direct object is a material or means appears instead with a direct object designating a "product" or outcome. Examples: pour water ~ pour a beer; tie a rope ~ tie a knot. I use this also for mental verbs and speech verbs where the "object" is an appropriate abstract noun, e.g. to know a subject, to ask a question.
(123)
The boy sang a song.
the
the
boy
boy
sang
sang
a
a
song
song
‘The boy sang a song.’
9
U
n A transitive verb that implies a certain kind of material instrument/means, e.g. tie, wrap, can take the "instrument" as direct object, with the erstwhile direct object appearing in an obligatory locational PP. Example: tie X with a rope ~ tie a rope around/onto X, wrap X with paper ~ wrap paper around X. This resembles the Locative alternation.
(159)
He tied the rope around the tree.
he
he
tied
tied
the
the
rope
rope
around
around
the
the
tree
tree
‘He tied the rope around the tree.’
1
U
n A transitive verb implying a material instrument/means appears with the instrument/means as direct object and an into-phrase describing the product or outcome, e.g. He tied the ribbon into a bow. This could perhaps be seen as an instance of the Instrumental Object alternation, with an into-resultative phrase in place of a locative (compare: He tied the ribbon around the parcel).
(161)
I tied the ribbon into a bow.
I
I
tied
tied
the
the
ribbon
ribbon
into
into
a
a
bow
bow
‘I tied the ribbon into a bow.’
5
U
n A transitive verb depicting someone moving something (T) to a vehicle, container or other "thing-like" location can appear with the location as direct object and the thing moved in a with-phrase, e.g. loaded hay onto the truck ~ loaded the truck with hay.
(165)
He loaded the truck with hay.
he
he
loaded
loaded
the
the
truck
truck
with
with
hay
hay
‘He loaded the truck with hay.’
1
C
y An intransitive verb that can take a directional adjunct (indicating that the actor achieved translocational motion by performing the activity) appears with 'Possessor + way' in the postverbal position, e.g. They pushed through the crowd ~ They pushed their way through the crowd. 0
U
n An intransitive verb depicting an event which could be bad for someone (other than the subject) gains an argument in an on-phrase designating another person who is negatively affected; e.g. My horse died on me. 0
C
y An experiencer verb that normally takes a post-verb NP (often with a locus expression) appears with a gerundive (i.e. -ing form) complement.
(53)
I saw them going.
I
I
saw
saw
them
them
going
going
‘I saw them going.’
2
U
n Some verbs of emotional reaction can take an added "stimulus" argument expressed in a prepositional phrase, e.g. Don't cry for me. This is not the same phenomenon as a subcategorised prepositional object with a predicate like afraid (of) or obsessed (with). 0
U
n A transitive verb of "affect" can take post-object secondary predicate, expressing an effect that has been achieved on the direct object. With some verbs this construction licences certain kinds of expression as direct object that are otherwise not possible; compare *She boiled the pot ~ She boiled the pot dry.
(96)
She tore the poster down (off the wall).
she
she
tore
tore
the
the
poster
poster
down
down
(off
(off
the
the
wall)
wall)
‘She tore the poster down (off the wall).’
1
U
n Verbs like carry, bring and take can add a plain, i.e. non-reflexive preposition co-referential with the subject in a with-phrase; e.g. I took my brother with me, He brought his racquet with him. The implication is that the subject could benefit from the presence of the person or thing, e.g. as company, as equipment. There is no standard name for this construction, cf. Levin (1993: 104).
(353)
He brought his brother with him.
he
he
brought
brought
his
his
brother
brother
with
with
him
him
‘He brought his brother with him.’
3
U
n When the "possessor" of an object which is normally realised in an oblique PP is alternately realised as a possessive NP, typically a possessive pronoun. For example, I stole money from him ~ I stole his money. The terminology is awkward and derives from relational grammar, but I don't know of any more felicitous alternative. The possessive construction implies real ownership, whereas oblique PP version only requires temporary possession, e.g. I had borrowed my sister's bike and while I had it, someone stole it from me.
(374)
He stole the old lady's money.
he
he
stole
stole
the
the
old
old
lady's
lady's
money
money
‘He stole the old lady's money.’
1
U
n Verbs that depict motional activity along a "path" through a background location can take a path expression as subject and the location as object. For example: The road follows the railway line, The bridge crosses the river, The path enters the forest here.
(392)
The road follows the river for ten kilometers or so.
the
the
road
road
follows
follows
the
the
river
river
for
for
ten
ten
kilometers
kilometers
or
or
so
so
‘The road follows the river for ten kilometers or so.’
1
U
n A verb of bodily motion, usually intransitive, takes a post-verbal locational object, e.g. She jumped the puddle. The construction is a near paraphrase relationship with a intransitive sentence with a PP, e.g. She jumped over the puddle. Levin (1993) might have categorised this an kind "preposition omission", but I see an affiliation with locative applicatives, hence the coinage Locative promotion. Occasionally a canonically transitive verb can participate: She climbed over the fence ~ She climbed the fence.
(88)
The horse jumped the fence and got away.
the
the
horse
horse
jumped
jumped
the
the
fence
fence
and
and
got
got
away
away
‘The horse jumped the fence and got away.’
2
C
y Infinitival complement.
(430)
She likes to go for long walks by the seaside.
she
she
likes
likes
to
to
go
go
for
for
long
long
walks
walks
by
by
the
the
seaside
seaside
‘She likes to go for long walks by the seaside.’
2
U
n Verbs of cognition, and some verbs of perception, can take embedded wh-complements, e.g. I know what to do, I couldn't think how to do it, She knew/asked/wondered where it was. The construction is sometimes termed an "embedded question" but this is misleading terminology. A better term would be "knowledge complement".
(80)
I didn't know how to do it.
I
I
did
did
not
not
know
know
how
how
to
to
do
do
it
it
‘I didn't know how to do it.’
2
U
n Verbs of cognition, emotion and communication can sometimes add a "topic" argument marked by preposition about, e.g. We laughed about it. There is scope for confusion because for some verbs, e.g. think, this can be regarded as a "core" valency.
(77)
He knows a lot about gardening.
he
he
knows
knows
a
a
lot
lot
about
about
gardening
gardening
‘He knows a lot about gardening.’
5
U
n
(239)
I'm scared of him.
I
I
am
am
scared
scared
of
of
him
him
‘I'm scared of him.’
1