I'm no linguist, grammarian and not even an english speaker, please bear with me. I'm looking for a quick way to identify transitive vs intransitive constructs, for example, in the sentence

"the plant has buried leaves"

even on google NLP, is incorrectly identified as transitive direct with action, where the plant decided to bury its leaves, just like an ostrich would with its head.

Is there a simple Mnemotechnic way to correctly associate 'bury' as a verb-adjective to 'leaves' or is it a real semantics issue that grammar/syntax can not solve?

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    In the meanig you think the sentence has, the verb has is transitive and takes buried leaves as its direct object. In the other sense of the sentence the verb buried is transitive and taked leaves as its object. Either way there is a transitive verb taking a direct object. Commented Jul 29, 2018 at 11:48
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    What is mnemotechnic?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 29, 2018 at 12:47
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    I’m a native speaker, and if you’ll excuse the bragging, one with documented strength with English grammar—and I made the same mistake Google did with this sentence on first read. Welcome to the English language: it’s ambiguous.
    – KRyan
    Commented Jul 29, 2018 at 20:56
  • Ok, so besides the meaning of it, there's no proper way to make the difference. I suspected it, since the construct sounded like a 'garden sentence', but it's good to know it from Native speakers. thanks all!
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 11:33
  • @Mitch mnemotechnic or mnemonics means using a difference sentence using the same construct, but leading to an obvious result. Very useful for latin based languages such as French.
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 11:41

1 Answer 1


Attempting to analyse sentences in isolation runs counter to what language as a system of communication is. There is no way to disambiguate the plant has buried leaves without further context and/or discerning the speaker's intentions. I.e., no you can't tell whether the finite verb is has buried or has in this sentence.

  • The weird thing in all of this, is that if we use 2000 words on a daily basis, how is the brain pulling the right context that fast? It's obvious the plant didn't bury its leaves, but looping on all plausible contexts would take enormous computing power. Whatever, cheers.
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 11:48

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