RE: Transitive / Intransitive Verbs

From: Clayton Bartholomew (
Date: Thu May 29 1997 - 06:24:27 EDT

RE: Transitive / Intransitive Verbs

This poor little post got buried under Professor Conrad's
treatise on voice. His treatise was such good reading that
everyone stopped reading after they finished it. Having
read his treatise, I think that the question I raised about
the nature of verb transitivity might be worth explaining.
It is not at all obvious for some of us how transitivity and
voice are related.

Here is the original Post with a new question added:

Jim Beale's question about J 3:30 raised a doubt in my
mind that I had a clear understanding how the *Transitive
/ Intransitive* qualities of a verb related to the Active \
Middle \ Passive issue.

I took a short tour of the Grammars which were within
easy reach and discovered what appears to be some
minor discrepancies in how this issue is treated.

Porter (Idioms) on page 63 cites Robertson and others to
the effect that *Transitive / Intransitive* is not
connected with the issue of Active \ Middle \ Passive.
Dana & Mantey (a footnote on p154) sort the issue out
fairly well. If I understand what they are saying I would
concluded that *Transitive / Intransitive* issues belong
to the domain of lexical semantics, not syntax. When we
say that a verb is Transitive we are talking about what
the word means in a particular context. Dana & Mantey
specifically stress the point that transitivity is
contextually determined.

If this is the case, then all the discussion in Turner
(Syntax, p51ff) about transitive verbs being used as
intransitive in the NT and vise versa seems to be to be
rather beside the point. If transitivity is an aspect of a
words semantic value in a give context, then why should
it be particularly noteworthy that this value can change
either over time (diachronicly) or in different contexts
(synchronicly). Turner seems to imply that transitivity
should be some sort of permanent part of a verbs
semantic baggage and then cites examples where this is
not the case.

I have three questions:

First Question. Is transitivity a part of syntax or does it
belong to lexical semantics, or does this question show
evidence of a misunderstanding somewhere else? Is this a
forced sort of either\or question that shows a weakness
in the underlying language model?

Second Question: Is a verb that only appears in the
passive or middle/passive form automatically

Third question: Is transitivity a *permanent* part of a
verbs semantic baggage, and if so does this not violate
the model that some of us are using for lexical semantics
which denies the existence of fixed semantic values for

This is a rather muddled series of issues but I a sure that
someone on the b-greek list will be able to sort it all out.

Clay Bartholomew
Three Tree Point

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