Sense 1:

The husband married the wife.

Sense 2:

The priest married the couple.

Is there a grammatical term that characterizes the different ways the verb is used in these two senses? I'm struggling to articulate exactly what the pattern is, but it has something to do with the manner of participation between the subject and object. In the first sense, the subject is changed as a result of the verb; in the second sense, the subject causes the objects to change (without changing themselves).

Another seemingly similar example (even though it may be an incorrect usage) is:

The participants consented to the research.

The participants were changed through the process of consenting.

The researcher consented the participants.

The researcher completed a formal process of obtaining consent, but wasn't involved in the consenting; that is, the researcher caused the participants to give consent.

  • This is an oldie. However, a Catholic priest doesn't marry anyone; he witnesses a marriage. The husband & wife(*) do the marrying. Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 22:13
  • 2
    @SteveSmith At a wedding, whoever officiates (registrar or priest) is not (and cannot be) a witness. Nor can a couple marry themselves. It is a legal contract and requires a mediator and separate witnesses for it be legitimised.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 22:19
  • He ran the race/He ran the sports centre may also be worth considering.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 22:22
  • 1
    The valency of verbs, perhaps! en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valency_(linguistics) Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 5:45
  • 2
    I don't think 'consent' can be a transitive verb. You consent to do something, or to something happening, but you can't consent a person. Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 8:23

4 Answers 4


As Dave mentioned in one of the answers here, this phenomenon is based on the transitive property of the verb.

The term you’re looking for with words such as marry is Patientive Ambitransitive Verb.


Some of this was touched on previously on this site: How to distinguish between uses of words like 'Marry'?

Whether this usage is common or not, it not only creates ambiguity, it does so in a rather comical way - implying married (Catholic) priests, polygamy, incestual unions etc. Sometimes this ambiguity can be relieved by context or slight reformulation; they were married by the local priest instead of *the local priest married them*.

This usage is idiomatic enough that I can usually make all the polite inferences and understand the intention - nevertheless it still hurts my ears.


I believe this verb, 'to marry' can be transitive or intransitive. A transitive verb makes sense only when it exerts action directly on a 'direct object'. An intransitive verb will make sense without a 'direct object' and may have an 'indirect object' - as in 'The priest married the couple.' The couple is the 'indirect object'.


The second senses in both of your examples are grammatically incorrect.

Priests and pastors officiate marriages for others, or perform the ceremony of marriage for others, but they do not marry them. The Oxford Living Dictionary does list (1.4) a ditransitive definition of marry as in parents marrying their child to another family; but does not list a definition as you use in your sense 2.

Likewise researchers obtain the consent of study subjects but they do not consent them.

One often finds this type of valence change in specialized jargon. For those within a specialized group, this jargon can be useful shorthand for the longer, grammatically correct phrases. Sometimes such jargon will evolve and become a common idiom. I would say your second sense of marry is semi-idiomatic already - virtually all native speakers would understand it, and understand why you would use it. On the the other hand I daresay your use of consented would only be welcome among in the rarefied realms of consent gatherers. In general you should avoid jargon.

  • 1
    This question isn't really about "marry" or "consent," but rather about how those two verbs can be used with different valencies. Plus, all three examples are grammatical to me (and I consent people as part of my job). Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 19:23
  • The definitions of these terms found in dictionaries do not support your claims. "Marry" can change its valency in a metaphorical sense "the show marries poetry with art", but otherwise the subject of the marrying is always one of the spouses, never the one who performs the ceremony. Likewise, although "consent" may have subtle shifts in valency (implicit and explicit) the usage above is not correct. The "consenter" is always the one giving permission, never the one obtaining or verifying the permission status of another. Even in cases of mutual consent this is so.
    – Frank G
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 20:55
  • Like I said, "marry" in that sense is grammatical in my dialect, so I don't know what to tell you. As for "consent," I admit the transitive usage is jargonistic but it does exist. Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 21:36
  • Here is an article I found with a 5-second Google that uses "marry" transitively: bustle.com/articles/… And here is a dictionary that provides such a definition: macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/marry (c) Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 22:16
  • Passing over the jargonistic use of consent (which I find quite strange-sounding as well), this answer is not supported by dictionary definitions of marry. The OED, for example, lists the officiating sense as sense 7.b, with quotes stretching from 1530 to 1996. It is M-W’s sense 1d and Collins’ sense 2. It is definitely grammatical and in common use, despite some dictionaries not listing it. Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 16:43

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