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Go is clearly an intransitive verb. This source {Chomp Chomp_Robin L. Simmons} says:

Some verbs, such as arrive, go, lie, sneeze, sit, and die, are always intransitive; it is impossible for a logical direct object to follow.

However, you do hear such exceptions as to die a thousand deaths, where die does become transitive.

In this sentence:

And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them. (Luke 19:32 KJV)

where to go one's way is not used with the meaning of something going the way you want it, but literally taking one's leave, what is the function of their way? Is it a direct object? Or is there an omitted preposition on at the origins of the phrase?

This phrase was rather common in past centuries:

Jeers and scornful laughter followed him out of the igloo, but his jaw was set and he went his way, looking neither to right nor left. (Love of Life and Other Stories, by Jack London)

And even earlier:

Well, go thy way: thou shalt not from this grove
Till I torment thee for this injury.
My gentle Puck, come hither. (A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Shakespeare)

Is it possible for go to have ever been transitive in the past?

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  • 1
    There's a question on go home which is relevant; some answers also mention "go down", "go south", etc.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 19, 2023 at 9:07
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    Please don't answer in comments.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 19, 2023 at 9:43
  • That source is wrong. The Oxford English dictionary provides several definitions of "go" as a transitive verb.
    – chepner
    Jan 19, 2023 at 19:59
  • Their way is volitional. But send doesn't take a volitional object, so the light verb went is foisted on us to enable the volitional NP. "... the semantic contribution goes beyond that of the purely functional tense/aspect kind. While light verbs generally do signal some kind of boundedness or telicity or causation (crosslinguistically), they also go beyond that and signal volitionality, benefaction, forcefulness, surprise, etc." ling.sprachwiss.uni-konstanz.de/pages/home/butt/main/papers/…
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 20, 2023 at 0:01
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    Could you step back and consider two things about 'And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them'? First, how is that now, or was it 400 years ago, a real English sentence? Ignoring that, how could '…they that were sent went their way …' work? Doesn't English demand that either "they went their way" or "they went the way they were sent" and never the twain shall meet? (I hope I'm not pointlessly repeating Phil Sweet…) Jan 20, 2023 at 0:21

5 Answers 5

4

And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them.

I don't see any reason why the NP "their way" should not be considered direct object of "went".

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  • I'm a little surprised to see just how consistent the ratio of usage with / without preposition on has been over the past two centuries. It's become slightly more common to include the preposition over recent decades, but not much. Obviously the choice only exists with to go - we never could say It's getting late, so I'll be / get my way. Jan 19, 2023 at 14:00
  • The idiom send/go (on) one's way allows optional on. Though you're right, it sure looks like a direct object. Passivizes with or without on: The way (on which) they were sent runs through Throckmorton. Jan 19, 2023 at 17:02
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    Transitivity is a sometimes thing. The relation between the verb and its object is the most variable semantic bond in English. Every verb defines what can be its object; that's part of its meaning, it's so specialized. Like pollinator species and flower species, they're delicately attuned. Jan 19, 2023 at 18:38
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    It's one test among many, but in idioms with auxiliaries like have it doesn't show much. The point I was trying to make was that can, like all modals, is its own thing and has to be taken as that and not as an exemplar of some category or other. Jan 19, 2023 at 23:14
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    @JohnLawler Because this way is not an object of the verb but an adverbial adjunct in You can figure it out this way, I see little reason to consider it such in He went this way, either. Surely we can still use noun phrases adverbially even after losing their customary old genitive case designation seen in He threw the ball quite a good ways. See OED about this particular case with way(s).
    – tchrist
    Jan 20, 2023 at 14:13
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'Go' is not intransitive in all its uses. It may be used intrasitively most of the time, but it is quite obviously not exclusively intransitive.

go the distance

go two days without food

go this way / that way

go a ways

go someplace nice

go both ways

go all in

go this alone

go another step

Go me!

I'll go you one better.

The only argument I can think of against calling the above objects is that most cannot be passivized. Still, they're complements to the verb go and have the form of an NP.

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  • Is "Go me!" part of this list? I feel it should've been "Go, me!"
    – justhalf
    Jan 19, 2023 at 17:42
  • Passivisation is not an infallible test (unless you define terms to make it so). 'A good time was had by all' is idiomatic, while 'A ball was had by us' is outlandish. // Allerton, in 'The Handbook of English Linguistics'... eds Aarts and McMahon, claims that post-verb noun groups such as appear in The piano resembled a pianola. The piano weighed a ton. The piano had a stool. The piano seemed an antique. should not be considered objects but are 'best regarded as belonging to a slightly different category'. Jan 19, 2023 at 20:32
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    Most of those look like adverbial adjuncts to me, not object complements. See OED.
    – tchrist
    Jan 20, 2023 at 14:16
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    @tchrist Although some might want a different term, as most of them seem obligatory. As with 'Put the bottle [on the table].' 'I didn't think It would go [the distance].' 'I decided to go [it alone] and stay and run the farm.' Jan 20, 2023 at 15:28
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Your source is incorrect. The Oxford English Dictionary lists 12 different definitions of "go" as a transitive verb (granted, some are obsolete). The relevant definition in this case is 20b.

20 b. transitive. To set off on (one's way or course of travel). Chiefly in to go one's way. Now somewhat archaic

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  • Yes, it is clearly incorrect. Here is another source that classifies it as intransitive. They really should mention that it can be both...
    – fev
    Jan 19, 2023 at 20:22
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"their way" is unneeded in your example, but may be useful if 'they' go their separate ways, their own way, or some other notable way

in this context go is meaning "travel off along" or something similar

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    My question is if "their way" is there, what function does it have?
    – fev
    Jan 20, 2023 at 7:09
  • none, as I said; it sort of retroactively makes go use the other sense, where go means "travel off along (some path)", but adds no extra information, because the only thing communicated about the "way" is that it is "theirs". If you need the right sentence structure jargon, I can't be of any help
    – EliDeaver
    Jan 20, 2023 at 7:16
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Adjunct, not Object

The grammatical function of their way in

They went their way.

is that of adverbial adjunct, not that of direct object. No action is received by that noun phrase.

Remember that noun phrases can be used adverbially, usually designating time, distance, or location. Doing so does not make them objects:

  1. He waited three minutes.
  2. He walked three miles.
  3. He went off a little ways and waited an hour.

You can still see the vestige of the Old English genitive case in that last example, where we use -s for the adverbial use of a way.

That particular instance the OED discusses here under “P3. Adverbial phrases containing the form ways with a singular determiner”. But the singular form can also be used this way, and it remains adverbial.

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    Maybe, but in "He walked three miles", I'd say that the NP "three miles" is object, particularly as it can be passivised, as in "The last three miles had to be walked".
    – BillJ
    Jan 20, 2023 at 15:06
  • Interesting approach. Your OED link is inaccessible to those who do not have membership. It may be helpful to summarise what it says about going one's way, not "ways", if possible.
    – fev
    Jan 20, 2023 at 15:16

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