Can be sentence with unaccusative verb describing some state change on the subject changed to sentence (with different verb of course) which contains cause of that event on the subject position (like this can be done for anticausative verbs) ? I'm specially interested in the inanimate cause, like some natural force, time, fire etc.


  1. John died. (because he was old) => *Old age killed John.
  2. The book fell. => Gravity force pulled down the book.
  3. The house burns. => *The fire destroyed the house ?
  4. Statue decay. => *The time destroyed the statue.

Are the alternatives sentences correct, only they sounds strange/silly ?

  • Died and fell would not be considered unaccusative - the only real unaccusative example you give is the third one. But I'm not sure what you're trying to ask, your first paragraph doesn't make much sense.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 31, 2016 at 15:20
  • Die and fall are unaccusative verbs, please check this article: Ergative and Unaccusative Verbs, and burn is ergative (in other sources also called anticausative, anticausative is a subcatergory of unaccusative). Do you think that the alternative sentence with transitive verb for 1 and 2 example is correct, where the action cause is inanimate ?
    – Adrian
    Apr 1, 2016 at 5:35
  • From wiki Anticausative verb : "Anticausative verbs are a subset of unaccusative verbs. Although the terms are generally synonymous, some unaccusative verbs are more obviously anticausative, while others (fall, die, etc.) are not; it depends on whether causation is defined as having to do with an animate volitional agent (does "falling" means "being accelerated down by gravity" or "being dropped/pushed down by someone"? Is "old age" a causation agent for "dying"?)."
    – Adrian
    Apr 1, 2016 at 5:44
  • Sorry, I had misremembered what unaccusativity was even from the model I thought I was working on. I had thought it only described verbs that had an alternation with transitive senses, but even my own notes say that it can apply to all intransitive verbs! However even then die and kill are not transformations of each other. They have distinct semantics. And your first paragraph still doesn't make much sense - could you give it another proofread?
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 1, 2016 at 5:53
  • I updated the question. May point here isn't to have some transformation schema for intransitive to transitive verb. But rather I want know if we know that something (not animate) cause change state of the subject in the sentence with the unaccusative verb, is there a possibility to express this cause on the subject position by some transitive verb ?
    – Adrian
    Apr 1, 2016 at 11:20

1 Answer 1


No, not unless you think that everything that happens has a cause and that you can determine that cause (which is a religious rather than a grammatical thesis).

  • When something happens, some object is changing its state there always is the cause of that event. The ice melted, because of high temperature. => High temperature melted the ice. (sample of the ergative verb). Somebody died, because he was old =>.... Can be this event expressed by transitive verb kill with cause in the subject position ? This sample is on wiki page for anticausative verb
    – Adrian
    Apr 1, 2016 at 5:40
  • Your question made it evident you believe every event has a cause, but, you know, this is controversial. What caused the Big Bang? See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument
    – Greg Lee
    Apr 1, 2016 at 15:27
  • If there is some object on which doesn't work any force it is stable and will be unchanged, so if its state has changed something/somebody has to invoke some action. Somebody could tell that Big Bang was done by God, somebody could say that it was caused because some set of matter was unstable (we don't know). But let's focus on simple samples on which we know that there is some cause of the event, like this sample with human dying, human is passive in this event. So can we describe this event by putting cause of that event on the subject position ?
    – Adrian
    Apr 4, 2016 at 11:24
  • You write: "If there is some object on which doesn't work any force it is stable and will be unchanged, so if its state has changed something/somebody has to invoke some action." This is not so. Atoms of heavy elements eventually decay without any external action. (Didn't you read the reference I gave?)
    – Greg Lee
    Apr 4, 2016 at 15:35

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