I'm struggling with some semantics around transitive/intransitive verbs. Let me give one specific example to illustrate.

The mayor vowed to reduce crime 1

We must all strive to do better 2

Both these sentences come from Merriam-Webster, but it lists the verb vow as taking an object (transitive), but strive as taking no object (intransitive). As far as I can see they're both examples of verb + infinitive, so should be treated the same. I don't see whatever grammatical difference exists.

2 Answers 2


Collins Cobuild (Chapter 1, Section 8) distinguishes three underlying patterns for the verb + to-infinitive string:

8 V to-inf: The verb is followed by a to-infinitive.

This pattern has three structures:

• Structure I: Verbs in phase The number of victims continues to rise.

• Structure II: Verb with Object He expects to fly to Beijing soon.

• Structure III: Verb with Adjunct He hurried to catch up with his friend. [note that this is not the in-order-to 'to']

In the meantime we wait to see what he will do.

Perhaps the simplest way to explain the distinctions is to start with their 'Structure III'. Notice that 'He hurried' is a bona-fide (if on occasion stylistically awkward) sentence, hence 'to ...' is arguably an adjunct. Neither 'to rise' in the first example, nor 'to fly to Beijing' in the second, can be sensibly dropped.

Next, Structure I involves 'verbs in phase', two verbs being needed to describe what is essentially one event / state. Cobuild lists the following 'meaning groups': (1) begin (/stop ... / grow) // (2) appear // (3) try // (4) manage // (5) fail // (6) regret to say // (7) hasten // (8) chance // (9) tend (and adds good examples of each class; some multi-word verbs are included).

Lastly, Structure II involves verbs obviously associable but describing two distinct events / processes / states. Again, Cobuild lists the following 'meaning groups': (1) promise // (2) demand // (3) hope // (4) like // (5) claim // (6) need.

According to this classification, "The mayor vowed to reduce crime" is a direct-object construction, 'vow' being in the 'promise' group.

"We must all strive to do better" is a phase structure, 'strive' being in the 'try' group.


"The mayor vowed to reduce crime"

"We must all strive to do better"

Let's diagram...

The / mayor / vowed / to reduce crime

Definite article / subject, noun / verb transitive / noun infinitive phrase and direct object of the verb "vowed"

We / all / must / strive / to do better

Pronoun, subject / adjective / verb phrase [ strive listed in Webster's as an intransitive verb, requiring not object] / Strive to do what? And "What?" is adverbial in meaning, so that the adverb infinitive phrase "to do better" modifies the verb phrase "must strive" to answer, "What?" to do better.

Understand that an infinitive phrase is the infinitive of the verb plus the marker "to" that acts as either a noun, adjective, or adverb:



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