Put is the one I'm thinking of. It is always transitive, but even with a direct object, it still makes no sense without an adverb or prepositional phrase.

I put it somewhere.

I put it on the shelf.

I put it down.

But never:

I put it.

Is there a word for this kind of verb, and can anyone think of more like this?

  • This seems similar to a ditransitive verb, but that's a verb that takes two objects and a subject. – simchona Jul 22 '11 at 18:08
  • @simchona: I think ditransitive is a lot more recent than transitive and intransitive. Maybe linguists just haven't got around to a category name for verbs that take one object and a "spatial locator phrase", or whatever else can follow (so far as I know as I write, this may be because there's only one verb in the category! :) – FumbleFingers Jul 22 '11 at 23:45

To get all linguisticsy about it, we can talk about the generalization of how verbs work. In traditional grammar, we talk about verbs having subjects and objects and whether they are transitive or intransitive. If we generalize this, we can talk about verbs being a kind of function that takes arguments, where subjects and objects are examples of kinds of argument verbs can take. The number of arguments a verb takes is called its valency. Intransitive verbs are monovalent, taking just one argument, the subject. Transitive verbs are divalent, taking two arguments, the subject and the object. There are more esoteric types like avalent verbs like rain which really take no argument (that is, the dummy pronoun it in “it’s raining” doesn’t refer to anything and so is not an argument, and is just the way English syntax forces all verbs to have a subject even if they are avalent). And put, the word from the original question, is trivalent, requiring not just a subject and an object, but also a location.

The different kinds of arguments a verb takes are called thematic relations, and have names like agent, experiencer, theme, patient, and location (see the Wikipedia article for definitions of all the different kinds of relations). Many verbs can take many different kinds of thematic relations as arguments, and the different combinations of arguments that a verb can take are called its subcategorization frame. The specific thematic relations that a particular verb requires in its subcategorization frames are called its theta roles, and verbs are said to assign theta roles. The verb put is exceptional in that its subcategorization frame assign three theta roles, including a location argument.

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  • So put is trivalent. It seems as if all ditransitive verbs would also be considered trivalent as well, would they not? – Daniel Jul 22 '11 at 20:31
  • @drm65, yes ditransitive verbs and put are all trivalent, but ditransitive verbs have a subcategorization frame of <agent, patient, recipient> (=<subject, direct object, indirect object>) whereas put has a subcategorization frame of <agent, patient, location> – nohat Jul 22 '11 at 20:45
  • So there is no word whose definition only includes <agent, patient, location> verbs. – Daniel Jul 22 '11 at 21:12
  • @drm65 there may be—I just don't know it. It'd have be a pretty specialized word known only to other English syntacticians – nohat Jul 22 '11 at 21:36
  • 2
    @drm65 I'd say the tersest you could get would be "trivalent verb that subcategorizes for location" – nohat Jul 22 '11 at 21:38

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