In the past couple of years I've noticed a new trend in younger generations of native English speakers, at least in American English and Australian English. But I can't find it discussed anywhere on the internet yet, not in linguistics papers, not in correct usage sites, not in language blogs.

The change is in certain verbs used in the passive being replaced by the verb used in the intransitive.

The most common verb where this change is happening is "to release" when pertaining to media, software, and technology. But several other verbs are undergoing the same change on a smaller scale.

Some made up examples:

  • "the games are being released" → "the games release"
  • "when the building is completed" → "when the building completes"
  • "the movie will be released" → "the movie will release"

My question is, are there some resources where this is being discussed? Especially any linguistics papers or studies?

Also, would these new senses be a kind of ergative? They make an inanimate object the subjects of verbs they are more normally objects of.


It's been pointed out to me that English verbs used to have a form called the passival which fits the pattern I describe except that the passival was restricted in use to the progressive while this new trend seems to occur in all tenses and forms of the verb. (More links: 1, 2, 3)


I'll add some real examples here:

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    Not an answer, but this sounds like continuing the trend of other English verbs? E.g., the door was opened vs. the door opened. Also found this example from Google books (1889): "The room measures 28,830 cubic feet, or 576 cubic feet per head." – jick Jul 14 '20 at 6:45
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    Another example that still jars to me (even though I know it’s standard in the industry and thus use it myself) is “the book publishes on 15 August”. I wouldn’t call this ergative, though – it’s simply causative alternation being applied to verbs we’re not used to see causatively alternate. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 14 '20 at 12:56
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    A cursory Google search seems to confirm your intuitions: "the movie will release" has only one hit before 2001, but increases greatly over the following years. (A search for "the games release" is tainted by misspellings for "the game's release"; the earliest results for "when the building completes" are either transitive or gerunds as Keelan took it) – b a Jul 14 '20 at 14:15
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    Perhaps "inchoative" or "anti-causative" might be good terms, following George Lakoff's discussion in his dissertation "Irregularity in Syntax". Compare "The physicist melts the metal/The metal melts" with "The studio releases the movie/The movie releases". – Greg Lee Jul 15 '20 at 20:38
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    I'm with Janus. This is causative alternation, or could be described as these verbs becoming labile, especially as the examples you cite (complete, especially so) fall neatly into the change-of-state category. – Circeus Jul 16 '20 at 2:22

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