Use of English: A New Generation of Transitive Verbs?

Transitive Verbs

Let’s start at the beginning. What is a transitive verb? Quite simply, a transitive verb is one which takes a direct object:, as in the example “I see you”. An intransitive verb doesn’t have a direct object, and is usually followed by a preposition: “I look at you”.

But something seems to be happening to many of our intransitive verbs, making them transitive. Could it be that simplification is intended, or is it just sloppy usage? Here are some examples:

A defendant appeals a decision

Students protest new regulations

A patient battles cancer

In all three cases, the verbs should normally be followed by the preposition “against”. At least, that used to be the case, but now your hear this newer version on the news or read it in the papers all the time.

Then we have ‘to browse’. The reply to an offer of help in a book shop is usually “I’m just browsing”, (that is, without an object) but these days it seems to take a direct object, as in ‘browsing a catalogue’. Surely it needs a preposition if it’s to be used this way. You browse through a collection of magazines.

Bless and Enjoy

Then we have verbs which are transitive, and therefore need an object, used alone. How often these days does a waiter say “Enjoy!” when he really should have given the verb an object: “Enjoy your meal!”

It’s becoming increasingly common for people who want to express a degree of sentimentality to say “Bless!” They should take a lead from the “Bless you” which follows a sneeze. You have to bless somebody, or something (“Bless this house”), not leave the verb hanging uncertainly in the air.

To Meet

Do you arrange to meet someone, or to meet with someone? The verb ‘to meet’ is transitive, so the preposition ‘with’ is unnecessary. Here the language’s evolution towards greater simplicity, as in the cases mentioned above, seems to be moving in reverse, frequently adding the extra word ‘with’ in every day usage. Maybe what is happening here is confusing ‘to have a meeting with someone’ with simply ‘meeting someone’.

To Go

Americanisms are creeping into the language all the time. Our ‘take-away food’ is being replaced by ‘food to go’. Where is it going? Perhaps in this case it’s more a question of not fully understanding the meaning of the word ‘go’ rather than the usage. If something goes, it is able to move. Food can only move if someone or something transports it. And, of course, the verb ‘to go’ is intransitive: the MacDonald’s hamburger goes to your car, but only because you are carrying it!