In the Song I Started a Joke by The Bee Gees (I recommend watching this cover – it's amazing), the lyrics contain phrases like

[…] which started the whole world crying […]

This seems to be non-standard usage. What does it mean?

How would you classify it? Is it some kind of slang?

2 Answers 2


Crying makes better sense if it is a participle. It behaves like a verb, for instance, when an adverb or an yet another object is added:

E.g.(1) He discovered the team sunbathing happily.
(2) He got everyone baking cakes.

The present participle is generally used when the object is performing the action, the past participle when it happens to them.:

(3) He saw the sheep eating.
(3a) He saw the sheep eating grass busily.
(4) They got the game stopped.
(5) He was busily reading 'Paradise Lost.'

  • 1
    Here's a genuine ditransitive, "He gave the man money,"
    – Hugh
    May 1, 2016 at 19:42
  • 1
    Yes - it's not ditransitive, "crying" is a representative of a complement clause.
    – Colin Fine
    May 1, 2016 at 20:26
  • Interesting! But the construction "He saw the sheep eating" basically means "He saw the sheep and the sheep were eating". Would you think the sentence in the song is supposed to mean "He started the whole world and the whole world was crying"? Or is it similar to "He got everyone baking cakes"? But isn't the latter kind of ditransitive for it doesn't include "He got everyone" as a sub-statement?
    – akkarin
    May 2, 2016 at 16:38

It's not a ditransitive verb, as that refers to when a verb takes two objects, like *He gave me a sandwich." Instead it could really be doing one of two things:

Like others have suggested, crying could be a participle modifying world, making started a transitive verb with the whole world as its object. This is a rather clunky use of a participle, however, and an odd use of the verb to start. To start normally takes an inanimate noun -- one that represents an idea/thing, and this leads to the other possible meaning of the sentence:

The object of started could instead be crying in gerund form (as a verbal noun). As a result, the sentence would need to become which started the whole world's crying..., making world possessive of the crying. This is certainly the more grammatical way of doing it, although using the participle is fine for informal, song use.

  • I quite like the second idea! I didn't think of that before.
    – akkarin
    May 2, 2016 at 16:40

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