I’d appreciate a second opinion on an exercise I’m doing, that is, to determine whether the main verbs of sentences are transitive or intransitive.

The sentence is as follows:

The teacher decided against doing karaoke.

I took the main verb to be ‘to decide against’, and tagged it as transitive, on the basis that its action is transferred to ‘doing karaoke’. ‘Doing karaoke’ here being a verb phrase (or I think, more specifically, a gerund phrase), and functioning as the direct object of the main verb.

However, I’ve been advised (i) that the main verb is actually 'to decide' (rather than 'to decide against'), which can be used transitively or intransitively, and (ii) that in the sentence above, it is intransitive, on account of there being no direct object, the teacher having decided against the action.

I am maintaining that the negation of a transitive verb’s action within the context of a sentence does not somehow make the direct object, as a grammatical constituent, disappear.

I thought the presence of “against” might be complicating this, but any way I turn it, the main verb still seems to be transitive.

Thank you in advance for any help.

1 Answer 1


I don't think it is obvious whether "decide" is transitive, in the example, but whether it is probably has nothing to do with a negation associated with "against". The most straightforward way to take the question is as a choice between two possible constituent structures:

  1. The teacher [V decided] [PP against [NP doing karaoke]]
  2. The teacher [V decided against] [NP doing karaoke]

Structure 1. is intransitive, since the V is not followed by a tree-sister NP, but 2. is transitive, since it is.

If structure 2 is correct, because "against" is a particle, it should be possible to move it to after the direct object to get 3.:

  1. *The teacher decided doing karaoke against.

If structure 1 is correct, it should be possible to prepose the the prepositional phrase:

  1. ?Against what did the teacher decide?

The unacceptability of 3. and the (relative) acceptability of 4. is evidence that 1. and not 2. is the correct structure.

On the other hand, we could take the following to argue the other way:

  1. *Against doing karaoke, the teacher decided.
  2. Doing karaoke was decided against by the teacher.
  • Thank you for this analysis. Just to double-check: "PP" stands for prepositional phrase, and "NP" for noun phrase, correct?
    – Matt S.
    Jan 19, 2016 at 22:32

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