Marry can be used both transitively:

"Paul Married Jane"

and intransitively:

"I got married".

Thus making the word ambitransitive

But it has a third use:

"Paul, the vicar Married Jane to Bob"

The last use is certainly transitive, but what is the word for this use?

Is this to do with (un)accusative and (un)ergative verbs?

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    I don't recognise the term ambitransitive, but my understanding of a ditranstive/bitransitive verb is that it can take two objects without either of them needing to be introduced by a preposition. So the vicar can "ditransitively" give them advice, but it would only be a "[mono-]transitive" usage if he gave advice to them. – FumbleFingers Feb 14 '14 at 14:51
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    You can use context. – Mitch Feb 14 '14 at 14:56
  • As is normal in English (and presumably to a greater or lesser extent, all languages), the precise meaning of any utterance depends on context (both the surrounding words, and the circumstances within which the utterance was made). Your "third use" strikes me as extremely unusual - apart from anything else, I would infer that the speaker was far closer to Jane than to Bob, since the "to Bob" bit sounds almost like a tacked-on afterthought (he might just as well have married her to Tom, Dick or Harry, but it just so happens it was Bob). – FumbleFingers Feb 14 '14 at 15:00
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    In the phrase 'I got married', to marry is still transitive. It is simply in the passive voice, which may obscure the exact relationship between subject and object. – Anonym Feb 15 '14 at 4:34

"Words like Marry" are called Reciprocal Verbs, or Predicates, or Constructions.

They refer to sets (normally couples) of agents, instead of to a single agent. Marry is prototypic. Reciprocal predicates have unusual syntactic affordances, like the ability to swap subject and object without altering meaning. Note:

  • Bill and Sue married yesterday (dual subject, intransitive)
  • Bill married Sue yesterday ~ Sue married Bill yesterday (subj~obj swap, transitive)

These meanings of marry are Inchoative -- they refer to change of state. Bill and Sue entered the state of being married, a Stative meaning. The adjective married describes the state, not the event of its inception:

  • Bill and Sue are married (predicate adjective, not a passive)
  • Bill is married to Sue ~ Sue is married to Bill
  • Bill is married ~ Bill is a married man
  • Sue is married ~ Sue is a married woman
  • George is not married ~ George is an unmarried man

but note

  • George is not married to Sue vs *George is unmarried to Sue

Finally, as usual when there is a Stative and an Inchoative sense of a verb (whether reciprocal or not), there is also a Causative sense of marry, meaning 'Cause to marry', and running through all the changes of the other senses, viz

  • George married Bill and Sue.
  • George married Bill to Sue. ~ George married Sue to Bill.
  • Sue's father married her off young (to Bill).
  • The couple's parents married them off young.

To summarize, marry has

  1. a stative sense as a predicate adjective be married
    (derived from a past participle, but without verbal powers)
  2. an inchoative sense meaning 'come to be/become married'
    (a reciprocal verb, allowing argument-swapping)
  3. a causative sense meaning 'cause to become married'
    (in several senses of cause, and several senses of marry)

Each one has different uses, constructions, and stigmata.

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    Yup, that's a common pattern: Stative ~ Inchoative ~ Causative. Often the same verb, often something different. Dead - Die - Kill; Seated ~ Sit ~ Set; Closed ~ Close ~ Close; Open ~ Open ~ Open. Etc. – John Lawler Feb 15 '14 at 1:24

When it is used passively (I got married), there seems to be no problem.

But in other cases, context is everything.

I might very well say

My friend Bob married me.

That might either mean I married Bob, or it might imply he performed the ceremony leading to me being married to my wife (who may, or may not be named Bob).

The moment three people are mentioned, it is usually not that hard to distinguish object, indirect object and subject, in which case the objects are the ones that end up as a couple by the action of the subject.

  • Wouldn't Bob in OP's example be an indirect object? (probably treated as dative in Latin) – d'alar'cop Feb 14 '14 at 15:00
  • Hi, I've clarified my question. – Pureferret Feb 14 '14 at 15:09
  • @d'alar'cop yes, indeed, I think so :) (sorry for any confusion my use of Bob may have caused as to Bob's marital status :P ) – oerkelens Feb 14 '14 at 15:24
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    @JonHanna: that is entirely true, but the default interpretations are shifting. In the Netherlands, people can perform weddings under a temporary license, so it might be a one-off special favor to a friend. And of course, the fact that one might assume Bob became my husband (me being a man) already shows how shifting social habits complicate our language interpretation. 20 years ago "Bob married me" would have clearly indicated that Bob performed the ceremony, if the sentence was spoken by a man :) They never seem to think of linguistic complications when discussing equal rights :( – oerkelens Feb 14 '14 at 17:21
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    Poor Bob. By now we are unsure about their gender, as well as marital status. And that on Valentine's. What will become of Bob tonight... – oerkelens Feb 14 '14 at 17:45

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