Harm is a transitive verb. Transitive verbs require a direct object; my question is whether there is any requirement that when used as a noun, the word "harm" also requires a direct object. In other words, can harm exist if the harm is not related to someone or something? It seems illogical that it could, but I am looking for an authoritative answer. Even if you do not know, any suggestions of what books or authority might provide an answer on this question would be enormously helpful.

Thank you.

  • 'Telescope' may be used transitively: you can telescope the larger into the smaller ('We telescoped six weeks into three'). A telescope can just sit around unused. The senses of the noun and verb are related, but very loosely. Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 1:11
  • Where is the object in "do no harm"? Or in "I didn’t mean any harm"? Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 1:22
  • There is no such requirement.
    – Xanne
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 1:26

1 Answer 1


Harm (v) is transitive because it's a causative verb
    (i.e, A harms B means 'A causes B to come to harm')
and all causative verbs are transitive. The subject is the cause and the object is the effect.

When a verb is nominalized (i.e, made into a noun), its argument(s) can be expressed,
generally as prepositional phrases. However, when a verb has both a transitive and an
intransitive form, like shoot:

  • The hunters shot until they were out of ammunition. (intr)
  • They shot the hunters for using all the ammunition. (trans)

either one of them can be expressed by a genitive with of -- i.e, the nominalization

  • &the shooting of the hunters

is ambiguous (whence the "&" stigmatum) between the intransitive sense

  • that event of shooting that the hunters did

and the transitive sense

  • that event of somebody shooting the hunters

Either way, it's the Absolutive (subject of intransitive, object of transitive)
that gets picked to be the object of of.

That's if there's only one argument expressed. If both arguments of a transitive verb get expressed, they will still be possessive, but the subject will be a morphological genitive, while the object will be an of phrase. I.e,

  • A shoot B == Nominalize => A's shooting of B

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