The OED states that the verb "impinge" is intransitive. However, example sentences such as the following have (as I see it) the verb taking a direct object (highlighted in bold):

Several factors impinge on market efficiency.

The proposed fencing would impinge on a public bridleway.

In the above sentences, is the verb not transitive?

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    To 'impinge on' something is an indirect object. You are looking for something or someone to 'impinge' something for it to be a direct object.Your examples are both intransitive as there is no direct object there in either case.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 11, 2020 at 12:07
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    @Nigel J "To 'impinge on' something is an indirect object." makes no sense. And no analysis would consider there to be an indirect object involved here. Jan 11, 2020 at 15:42
  • @Nigel J If a prepositional phrase is involved here, which I don't believe is the case, an indirect object is not involved. If a multi-word verb is involved, it takes a direct object. Jan 11, 2020 at 15:50
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    @EdwinAshworth I look forward to up-voting your answer once you submit it.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 11, 2020 at 15:55
  • I can't; I've posted my views in a 'comment' below, but don't consider dictionary POS-tagging sufficient endorsement here. I've not found a grammar voting on whether 'impinge on our rights' should be analysed as V + PP or MWV + DO. Jan 11, 2020 at 16:49

2 Answers 2


No, it would not be classified as transitive—at least, not according to the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language's definition of transitivity.

A transitive verb, such as crush, takes a noun phrase called the "direct object" as a complement. (E.g. noun phrase "the lemon" in "I crushed the lemon" is the direct object of the verb crush.)

In the sentences you give, impinge takes a prepositional phrase headed by the preposition on as its complement. That prepositional phrase contains a noun phrase (sometimes called the "object of the preposition"), but the fact that this noun phrase is embedded in a prepositional phrase makes it not count as a direct object of the verb.

Both transitive and intransitive verbs can take complements, but of different types. Only verbs like crush that take noun phrases as complements are categorized as transitive verbs. Impinge would be transitive if you could say things like "Several factors impinge market efficiency." (The comments indicate that the OED records transitive uses of impinge.)

Related previous posts:

  • How is transitivity defined in CGEL?

    Brett Reynolds' answer says:

    For CGEL, transitive means specifically 'taking a object as complement'. Moreover, I recall personal discussions with Pullum and Huddleston in which they confirm that only NPs function as objects. Verbs or prepositions which take other types of complements, such as clausal complements, predicative complements, etc, are not transitive.

  • Intransitive or transitive

    Araucaria's answer says

    An object is a special type of complement of a verb. [...] It is the preposition heading the preposition phrase which has a special relationship with the verb apologise. So because someone isn't a complement of the verb here, it cannot be considered a direct object.

  • call on - trans or intransitive verb

    BillJ's answer says

    A verb is only transitive if it has a direct object in the clause that contains it. [...] Note that complements of prepositions are not direct or indirect objects.

Therefore, the only way "impinge on something" could be transitive according to the CGEL definition of transitivity would be if "on something" did not constitute a prepositional phrase. I'm pretty inclined to say that "on market efficiency" and "on a public bridleway" are prepositional phrases, but some of the comments have suggested that the structure of your examples is "[impinge on] [noun phrase]" instead of "[impinge] [on noun phrase]". This issue is discussed in the following places:

Another related post:

  • All the dictionaries I've checked in consider 'impinge on/upon' to be a transitive 'phrasal verb' (in the terminology I prefer, a transitive multi-word verb). This is at odds with the simplex verb + prepositional phrase analysis you state (without supporting references). [These rules] [impinge on/upon] [our civil rights], not [These rules] [impinge] [on/upon our civil rights]. Jan 11, 2020 at 15:48
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    @EdwinAshworth Not the OED, where all senses constructed with prepositions are deemed intransitive. In contrast, transitive citations from senses 1, 2, and 3: If this method of appealing to the absurdities of a past age, and impinging them upon the present age is fair and just. // He impinged his foot with a force that overbalanced himself. // The striker's thumb .. impinges the skull of his opponent. Adding on or upon makes it intransitive; from sense 6: In doing so, I should be impinging on the province of the reviewers.
    – tchrist
    Jan 11, 2020 at 19:28
  • @tchrist Yes; Lexico has 'no object' rather than 'intranisitive' for the usual 'impinge on/upon X' examples. Do you remember a question here addressing the different approaches? Jan 11, 2020 at 19:48
  • I know of no grammatical system in which a verb which takes a non-nominal argument would be considered intransitive, and I can't really believe the CGEL would define it as such. Do you have direct quotes that they do? That linked question is talking about intransitive prepositions, not verbs. Jan 12, 2020 at 11:30
  • @herisson That CGEL quote is truly astounding. I'll have to ask on Linguistics. Maybe it's an idiosyncratic redefinition of Pullum and Huddleston. Jan 12, 2020 at 12:42

I agree with you, those examples clearly show transitive uses of the verb impinge. The verb takes two arguments, a subject and a prepositional phrase. If a verb takes two arguments then it's transitive. In fact I can't think of any intransitive examples, unless you would count a clause with an elided argument (and I wouldn't, elision is a process that changes the final output, but doesn't change the natural valency of a verb IMO.):

John: One factor impinges on market efficiency.

Mark: No, many factors impinge.

  • Is "green" an argument of the verb be in the sentence "Grass is green"? If so, "is" has two arguments, "Grass" and "green," and so the verb be is transitive according to the definition given here.
    – herisson
    Jan 12, 2020 at 12:09
  • @herisson Yes, in that example is is transitive. Jan 12, 2020 at 12:43

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