I search info and explanations about "transitive nouns", I didn't read Chomsky yet. I know he talks about "transitive nouns".

Transitivity is typically thought of as a property of verbs, and perhaps of adpositions, but it is not a typical property of nouns or adjectives. In the influential cross- classification of syntactic categories developed by Chomsky (e.g. 1981: 48), nouns and adjectives are actually defined in opposition to adpositions and verbs by their inability to govern objects, that is by their inability to be transitive.


I would need some more explanations, so, what is your (simple!) definition for transivity applied to nouns, its rules of use, some examples, and in which family of languages they apply or not apply?

  • I would know why people downvote randomly questions, without even letting a comment.
    – Quidam
    May 5, 2017 at 17:11
  • 4
    This question is both too broad ("some more explanations" is way too vague) and opinion-based (we do not discuss "your definitions" as there are thousands users with their own opinions). I believe, this is where downvotes come from. May 5, 2017 at 17:14
  • I need a definition, you can remove "your", because I can't find a definition. You can remove "some more explanations" and remove by "I need explanations".
    – Quidam
    May 5, 2017 at 17:26
  • 2
    Nouns that are derived from verbs that take complements can take the same kind of complement: He contended that she left before him ~ his contention that she left before him. But that doesn't necessarily make the noun "transitive" under all senses of "transitivity". The thing is that when a transitive verb with a subject and an object is nominalized, either the object or the subject can carry over to the nominalization, and you can't always tell the difference. This is the source of Chomsky's famous ambiguous noun phrase the shooting of the hunters.
    – jlawler
    May 5, 2017 at 19:49
  • 1
    @sumelic: They can take clausal complements. I never use the word "complement" to refer to anything but a noun clause. The prepositions come and go, rather like case markers but not disturbing the predicate-argument relationships. The case of the shooting of the hunters is instructive: of the hunters can refer either to agents or patients of the shooting. That means it can be either the subject of intransitive shoot or the object of transitive shoot. But Bill's shooting of the hunters, with 2 genitives, is unambiguous and transitive, with arguments identified clearly.
    – jlawler
    May 8, 2017 at 21:47

1 Answer 1


Begin with "The sloppy eating of fish is disgusting", with the noun "eating", and replace the PP "of fish" with the direct object NP "fish", thus creating a transitive construction. Notice that "eating" loses its status as a noun and becomes a verb: "Sloppily eating fish is disgusting." Why does that happen?

It's because nouns can't be transitive.

  • So, Chomsky is wrong?
    – Quidam
    May 9, 2017 at 6:28
  • 1
    No. Not according to the quote you gave: "... nouns and adjectives are actually defined in opposition to adpositions and verbs by their inability to govern objects, that is by their inability to be transitive." Did you read your question?
    – Greg Lee
    May 9, 2017 at 11:14
  • English being not my language, as you probably figure it by reading the way I write, so it's a bit difficult to understand complex concept. "it is not a typical property of nouns or adjectives", seems to mean that it's not typical, but could be one of their property. The quote is only a part of the text, because I can't paste the whole.
    – Quidam
    May 9, 2017 at 13:15
  • When you say a property is typical, you allow for the possibility of some individuals that don't have the property, but you don't imply that there actually are such cases. The passage you quoted does not say there are any transitive nouns. It just doesn't say that. Consequently, what I said is not in conflict.
    – Greg Lee
    May 9, 2017 at 15:33
  • I want to precise, my question is not about the quoted passage, but about Chomsky theory, the page given in "source" is an example. The title of the page is "Transitive nouns and adjectives: evidence from Early Indo-Aryan" So it uses a this title, to say that's not possible to have transitive nouns or adjectives?
    – Quidam
    May 9, 2017 at 16:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.