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The Emotive Value of Transitivization

Transitive verbs are verbs that govern direct objects without the intervention of postpositions, whereas intransitive verbs are those that do not require or cannot take a direct object. In contemporary American English, especially in the language of advertising and the media, there has been an extended trend toward the transitivization of traditionally intransitive verbs, as in “ski Bromley,” “shop Target,” “surf the web,” “lean Republican,” etc., all of which constructions, strictly speaking, are missing postpositions (i. e., “ski on Bromley [Mountain],” “shop at Target,” etc.). This trend was illustrated yet again on the front page of today’s issue of The New York Times: “Mr. Reid said he would vote [instead of “vote for”] Huntsman in the Republican presidential primary on Tuesday.” (Jim Rutenberg, “Ready or Not, Huntsman Faces His Moment in New Hampshire,” January 8, 2012, Late Edition, p. 1).

The omission of the postposition has the effect of increasing the emotive force of the verbal action on the direct object. The intercalation of a postposition between the verb and the object makes the latter necessarily indirect. The indirection of verbal force accompanying intransitivity, by comparison with transitivity, can be reversed by simply changing the grammatical category of the verb and dropping the postposition. Closing the distance between verb and complement in this way––as with all instances of relative closeness between governing and governed form––eventuates in a rise in emotive value, and it is precisely this value that is at a premium in language styles that aim at predisposing the utterer/writer to the listener/reader.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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