Formerly intransitive verbs



It seems that certain verbs that used to be intransitive have evolved into transitive verbs. For example:

You need more capital to grow your business.

More than two hundred people were disappeared last year.

Is this a trend, and is there a pattern to the trend?

Posted 30 August 2002


Just as nouns are becoming verbs (to source, to gift, to impact, to network, to author [a book], to chair [a meeting]), verbs that have always been intransitive (without a grammatical object) are slowly becoming transitive (with an object). Yes, there is a trend, and the trend often follows a pattern. A new usage generally originates within a special, limited domain, as with the use of grow with objects other than objects in nature. Rachel posted an informative message about the transitive usage of grow, in which she quotes the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (p. 149):

The newer usage of grow to mean expand (grow the business; grow revenue) is business jargon, best resisted

(To see the original message, click here.)

I might add that President Bill Clinton often used the statement "We have to grow the economy." Other objects commonly used with grow are business and market. It remains to be seen whether this transitive usage will spread to domains outside of business and politics.

The transitive usage of disappear, as in "Two hundred people have been disappeared this year alone," is still restricted to political, historical, sociological, and journalistic speech and writing, and involves only human objects. The transitive use of this normally intransitive verb arose, I think, for two reasons. First, the "disappearances" occurred in Latin America, where the Spanish desaparecer is both intransitive and transitive. Second, no other word in English could express the idea of someone being picked up and taken away secretly, never to be found or seen again. In early usage, the verb appeared in quotation marks ("Dozens of students have been 'disappeared'") to indicate that it was being used in a special way. Now it is used both with and without quotation marks, indicating that this usage has entered the mainstream.

A much newer transition from intransitive to transitive is taking place with the verb expire. Just this week I received a notice from my Internet provider telling me:

[Accounts like yours] are expired annually. We will expire all . accounts which have not been renewed on or after 9/16/2002. If you do wish to have your account expired, you need do nothing.

Curious, I did a Google search and found that expire is being used transitively in a variety of contexts:

We have expired all the cookies from this portal on your computer.

The meeting is still running but we have expired both of the agenda items.

Our old access numbers have been expired.

All of these usages involve things with expiration dates, but one rather alarming example has a human object:

We have expired some members who are overdue for renewal.

Still, the transitive usage of "expire" is very restricted and will not, I predict, become mainstream for quite some time.

Marilyn Martin

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