My understanding is that there aren't many pairs of intransitive and transitive verbs in modern English. Off-hand, I know of three (though I think there are more):

  • lie vs lay
  • rise vs raise
  • fall vs fell

There are of course verbs which can be both on their own without a sound change, but I'm not interested in those.

The question then is, did we ever have more of these pairs such that they simply fell out of use over time? Or did we only ever have a small amount?

If we did lose them, about which generation of English did we lose them in?

  • 6
    Those are actually causatives signalled by vowel mutation: lay means to cause to lie, raise means to cause to lie, fell means to cause to fall. See here for causatives with other kinds of mutations, both vocalic and affricate, and some of the history behind this phenomenon.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 23:10
  • 2
    I answered this one a while back. There's also sit/set. Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 18:17
  • @JohnLawler thanks for this, though I think the question still stands while the terminology can just be made more specific. You say "As usual, however, when there is an intransitive inchoative verb for a particular state, there is also a transitive causative verb" - but how do those pairs look and how frequent are those words to begin with? Did we perhaps used to have more connected by a simple sound change as these are? Commented Nov 20, 2022 at 4:25
  • 2
    They're not pairs, they're triples - a stative predicate, an inchoative predicate, and a causative predicate. Logically, STATE (x), CHANGE (STATE (x)), and CAUSE (y, CHANGE (STATE (x))). Bill is alive/dead, Bill died, Frank killed Bill. CHANGE usually defaults to START or STOP, but it can get complicated. As to what they look like, there is no rule, or rather the rules have varied over the centuries. Look for the meanings and uses. Also, when there is a special inchoative verb, it can often be used as a causative, too. Commented Nov 20, 2022 at 17:07
  • It should be noted that the claim that "lay" is only transitive is not supported by the evidence.
    – alphabet
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 2:02


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