I know that some verbs can be used either transitively or intransitively. Is it acceptable to use a verb transitively that is generally not used that way? As in:

"I can't continue to stagnate myself with fear of failure."

research so far:

“Stagnate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stagnate. Accessed 12 Sep. 2023.

Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Intransitive Verb?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/intransitive-verb-term-1691185.

Warriner, John E. Warriner's English Grammar and Composition. Liberty ed. (Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986) 13-14.

  • 2
    What do you mean "is it acceptable?"? If your editor has a specific dictionary, and it says "intransitive (only)" they probably will complain, and it'll look odd to people who're used to it being intransitive, but is that OK for you? What are your criteria? What did your research tell you?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 16:16
  • Maybe but the myself kills it, imo.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 21:24
  • 2
    Like @Lambie I find the reflexive pronoun more objectionable than the transitive use of the verb. Myself, I'd avoid both problems entirely and write I can't continue to stagnate for fear of failure. Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 5:21
  • I've certainly spoken, read, and heard it used in this manner (and, after seeing @DjinTonic's answer, I'm not surprised I have)
    – warren
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 12:18
  • Using the verb stagnate transitively nowadays would sound strange to a very large majority of native speakers. It's like using the verb cease transitively with a direct object.
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 18:37

2 Answers 2


Stagnate (v.)

Transitive. To cause to be or become stagnant.

1693 Whence gushed out an Inundation of Water, that is here stagnated, and become a filthy Lake. J. Edwards, Discourse concerning Old & New-Testament vol. I. iv. 134

1842 The power which these bodies have of stopping the transmission of heat depends on the air which is stagnated in their vacuities. J. C. Loudon, Suburban Horticulturist 68

Transferred and figurative.

1906 There is a tendency for age to stagnate a man's initiative, invention and energy. Daily Chronicle 18 October 4/7

I would say that the transitive use is certainly uncommon and might raise the eyebrows of today's readers.* The New Oxford American Dictionary (First edition) does not show it as transitive. I started to write that I couldn't find it sanctioned in any of my collegiate-size dictionaries (e.g. Collins), but then checked one more and found:

vt. To make stagnant
[Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition (1988)]

And in a comment below, Warren adds dictionary.com:

verb (used with object), stag·nat·ed, stag·nat·ing.

To make stagnant.

Overtime has expressed interest in this age group of athletes in the past, however the strict rules on how the publisher could work with this cohort of players aged 16 to 22 stagnated that interest.
‘Talent-first company’: How Overtime is positioning itself as a content partner for college athletes’ NIL deals | Kayleigh Barber | August 10, 2021 | Digiday

Found with Google Books:

All closed corners stagnate the air, even where the building forms but three sides of a square, unless the wings are so short that they can hardly be called wings.
Florence Nightingale; Notes on Hospitals (1859)

Anything which tends to stagnate growth hurts the dairy industry, and I think his plan would tend to stagnate the acceptance of new inventions, and new technology, and increase rather than decrease unit costs of production.
Dr. Roland Bartlett; Hearings Before the Committee on Agriculture, U.S. House, Committee on Agriculture (1957)

Haunting and alarming worldwide threats have amputated global attention from the issue of near-Earth space junk. From obvious concerns on the ground, to imperceptible despair above the atmosphere in the form of orbital debris, the consequences could stagnate the entire world and even cast it indefinitely back into the pale past. For some, this might sound like a good science-fiction movie, but the breaking up of space debris holds practical significant. People on the ground, even if they don't acknowledge it, are in constant dependence on the evolution of events about their heads.
Ion Storland; Extracting the Future from The Present (2020)

*One eyebrow per reader.

  • 1
    It seems I may have had tunnel vision when looking around the internet for my answer. Thank you! Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 16:16
  • I'm surprised that it was ever correct; it certainly sounds wrong to this native speaker.
    – gidds
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 12:01
  • dictionary.com/browse/stagnate shows the words being used transitively in an example, too
    – warren
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 12:20
  • 1
    @warren Thank you--added.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 14:00

It depends. The formal answer is "No." It's not grammatical.

You could say, "I refuse to become stagnant..." Or "I refuse to let myself stagnate through indecision."

But if, for example, you're using the suggested wording as dialogue in fiction, then anything goes, because people don't always speak grammatically.

  • Perhaps you could provide some citation or reasoning for your claim that this is not grammatical.
    – Casey
    Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 17:37
  • 7
    ... which would be difficult, as OED licenses the transitive usage, with a recent example. A rare usage though, doubtless. Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 18:44

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