Voice of the verb cancel

The sentence below comes from More Word Smart:

We’d better hire some extra security for the concert; it’s going to be teeming with hopped-up kids, and they’ll be furious when they find out that the main act canceled last night.

In this sentence the verb cancel seems a bit awkward in terms of voice. To my sense of English grammar canceled would be a lot better if it were to be replaced with was canceled.

And the dictionary check-up proves my theory, that is, the verb cancel almost always used as transitive verb except used in a very limited sense, as in, two opposing forces that canceled out.

Do you agree with me?

closed as off-topic by Hot Licks, Edwin Ashworth, David, AmE speaker, Davo Nov 7 '17 at 18:19

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    It's idiomatic as originally stated. "Cancel my reservation" means I don't want to have that hotel room/airplane seat reserved for me. When a theatrical/musical act "cancels" it means that it has declared that it will not appear. – Hot Licks Nov 6 '17 at 13:45
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    The question clearly shows its research, looking up dictionaries etc., and yet someone has voted to close this as “offtopic” (“This question does not appear to be about English language and usage within the scope defined in the help center”) on further grounds that it doesn't show research. Sigh. – ShreevatsaR Nov 6 '17 at 16:16
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    @ShreevatsaR On a site dedicated to linguists, checking for an intransitive use of 'cancel' in various dictionaries may be expected here. And ELU requires that results of research be shown. // Macmillan gives an appropriate example. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 6 '17 at 16:25
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    @EdwinAshworth Yes I deleted my comment because the crux of the misunderstanding in the question is not about intransitive versus intransitive, but the fact that “main act” is being used as the agent of the action, not the patient. The OP already says “ the verb cancel almost always used as transitive verb…” so was aware of the intransitive use in certain cases, but this did not appear to be one of them (as without that understanding of “main act”, there did appear to be an object/patient that got cancelled, the main act). I think it's a good question. – ShreevatsaR Nov 6 '17 at 16:56
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    @EdwinAshworth At the Help Center I see the site “is for linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts” and AFAIK there are more of the last. It says questions on word choice and usage and on “grammar” are welcome, and the question happens to fall into those categories IMO, and (under its assumptions) isn't a too-basic one. Interesting that “Your order has shipped” got “I don't know why someone downvoted” from you in 2013 (when others considered it too basic), and now a similar question (except that the answer happens to be very different) got the opposite reaction. :-) – ShreevatsaR Nov 6 '17 at 20:03

"the main act was cancelled" and "the main act cancelled" have a different meaning.

If someone says "The main act was cancelled last night", then "the main act" refers to the final part of the show/event and we don't know why it was cancelled.

On the other hand, with "The main act cancelled last night", then "the main act" refers to the headlining performers, rather than the final stage of the event, and we know that it was cancelled because the headlining performers cancelled it.

Eg, from https://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/dec/04/liam-clancy-dies-obituary

Their appearance on the television programme, in early 1961, when their two-song slot was extended to 15 minutes after the main act cancelled, made them famous.

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    See also cancel on as in I was going to go to the movies with Jane and John, but they cancelled on me at the last minute. – MissMonicaE Nov 6 '17 at 17:01
  • As a musician, I'm pretty confused by the distinction between the "headlining performers" and the "final part of the show". When are they not the same thing? In other words, to me "the main act" always refers to the same band/artist regardless of the voice of the verb "cancel". – Todd Wilcox Nov 7 '17 at 13:06
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    @ToddWilcox this may be specific to theatre rather than concerts, but you can see a part of a show referred to as "the third act" for example. – Max Williams Nov 7 '17 at 13:10
  • @ToddWilcox I've definitely been to concerts where the headlining performer wasn't the last act but had one more act coming after them. It's not the norm, but it definitely happens. – Cronax Nov 7 '17 at 14:29
  • I go to many events where the main act is not the final one. But I think the main point of Todd's comment was the last sentence, that the "main act" always refers to the same artist, and so the distinction drawn in the answer is confusing. "We don't know why it was cancelled" is also redundant (since we're not told that in either case). In both "the main act was cancelled" and "the main act cancelled", it's the same thing that got cancelled and we don't know why it was cancelled. In the latter, we know who did the cancelling. That's the only difference. – Rupe Nov 7 '17 at 16:56

Your confusion is understandable, but doesn't stem from the verb.

The verb cancel is indeed used in the active voice, and it is used correctly.

The action was performed by the subject that is mentioned in the sentence, that is, the main act.

In this case, the main act refers to whoever was booked to perform, be it the artist, the orchestra, whatever.

If the main act was canceled, someone else did the cancellation: the venue could have canceled the act, the management could have canceled the act. But in this case, the act themselves canceld the concert. So simply said, the artist called and said they would't be there.

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