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rain: verb, [no object] (it rains, it is raining, etc.)

fall: verb, [no object, with adverbial]

Are the following sentences grammatical?

(a) The package fell a great distance.

(b) It rained cats and dogs.

My doubts arise from the fact that "a great distance" and "cats and dogs" seem the objects of fell and rain respectively.

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What dictionary are you using? "Rain" can be either transitive or intransitive. –  KitFox Sep 10 '12 at 14:03
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Transitivity is a property of clauses, not of verbs. Most verbs can be used in some constructions in transitive clauses, and in other constructions in intransitive clauses. There are a lot of verbs and a lot of constructions, and any number of tests (like Passivizability) for transitivity. That's why you should never trust grammar pronouncements in a dictionary -- you don't know what syntactic standards they're using. –  John Lawler Sep 10 '12 at 14:53

2 Answers 2

The package fell a great distance

Subject + intrans. verb + adverbial phrase

It rained cats and dogs

Either Dummy subject + intrans. verb + real subject
or Dummy subject + intrans. verb + idiomatic adverbial phrase

For rain to be transitive, you would need a sentence like

The congregation rained confetti on the wedding couple.

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What about It rained buckets [ful/full of water]? –  bib Sep 10 '12 at 18:01
    
How is that different from "It rained cats and dogs"? Either the buckets themselves were raining down or it's an adverbial phrase describing the raining. –  Andrew Leach Sep 10 '12 at 18:28
    
I think that buckets is a measurement (potentially or close to real) and if it means bucketsful, it surely is. A bit different from cats and dogs. –  bib Sep 10 '12 at 19:29

"Rain" can be either transitive or intransitive. In this case it is transitive.

In your "fell" example, "a great distance" is not the object of the verb, but an adverbial phrase. Consider the sentence, "Bob said nothing for several days." The object of "said" is "nothing". That is what he said. "For several days" is an adverbial phrase describing the manner in which he said it. Same thing here: "a great distance" is not what was "felled", it was how the thing fell.

By the way, "fell" can also be a transitive verb, though the usage is not common. You can say, "He felled a tree", meaning that he cut a tree down and made it fall.

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Is "It rained cats and dogs" really transitive? I didn't analyse it that way. –  Andrew Leach Sep 10 '12 at 15:17
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@AndrewLeach I've always interpreted the sentence as "cats and dogs fell out of the sky" -- presumably a metaphor and not literal! -- in which case "cats and dogs" would be a direct object. I suppose it could also be read as an adverbial phrase. I'll gladly yield to someone who's done some etymological research. –  Jay Sep 10 '12 at 19:17

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