Sorry if this question doesn't make much sense, it's still a half-formed shower thought at this point. In my linguistics class yesterday we were going over ergative-absolutive alignment, and the professor (a non-native English speaker) came up with an example of an ungrammatical construction in English:

He fell the house.

This was to illustrate that 'to fall' is an intransitive verb and only takes one argument. However, almost immediately several students corrected him and said the use of 'fell' in that context is perfectly grammatical. It is perhaps a bit archaic and certainly an unusual construction, but one can use 'to fall' as a transitive verb, usually in the context of trees ("I fell the tree").* This use of 'to fall' appears to me as a causative, and it happens with other verbs as well, like 'to walk':

I walked.
I walked the dog. 

In the second sentence, 'walk' is now used to mean 'to cause to walk', or something along those lines. I analyzed this as a zero-derived causative that is only marked through a change in valency: when a normally intransitive verb becomes transitive in English, it becomes causative.

Then, I found what is essentially the opposite phenomenon in this question. What appears to be a zero-derived anti-causative formed by making a transitive verb intransitive (Ex. "the movie will release on Tuesday"). As far as I can tell, this works in the same way as the intransitive -> transitive derivation, just in the opposite direction. It got me thinking, how common is this phenomenon? I'm not asking about causatives or anti-causatives in general; I'm only asking about this specific type of construction.

*(EDIT) Turns out 'to fell' and 'to fall' have independent histories going back to Proto-Germanic, with 'to fell' deriving from *fallijaną, the morphological causative of *fallaną ('to fall'). Perhaps not the best example, but still interesting that multiple people including myself found the construction grammatical, when in fact it should be "he fells the house" or "he felled the house". The 'walk' example as well as other verbs (fly, sit, stand, etc.) still illustrate my point.

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    The transitive and intransitive verbs aren't the same, though. The transitive one is fell/felled, the intransitive one is fall/fell.
    – Draconis
    Feb 3, 2022 at 3:55
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    "he fell the house" would also have to be subjunctive to be a grammatically correct use of the transitive verb, otherwise it would have to be "he fells the house"
    – Tristan
    Feb 3, 2022 at 10:03
  • You're both correct and I'll edit the question to show that, but I think my point still stands with other verbs (walk, fly, sit, stand, etc.) Feb 4, 2022 at 4:38
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    Walking the dog isn’t causative, just transitive – it doesn’t mean ‘make the dog walk’, but ‘go for a walk and take the dog with you’. There are plenty of verbs that can be either transitive or intransitive, in all languages I’m familiar with – though in some, they require a suffix or other morphological change to be transitivised. Some verbs, like give, can be intransitive (“I give and I give, but get nothing in return”), transitive (“He gave a talk”) or ditransitive (“She gave me a book”). I’m not sure I’d really call that derivation, though. Feb 4, 2022 at 7:26
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    English, which has already lost almost all its inflectional morphology and is now working hard on losing its derivational morphemes, signals all kinds of things by zero derivation any more, including valency, aspect, and tense. But more synthetic languages frequently modify their roots and stems.
    – jlawler
    Feb 4, 2022 at 16:29


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