The following data show that the prefix re- can be attached only to transitive verbs.

List A       List B

reblacken    *rego

resoften     *recry

reharden     *resleep

The verbs of List A whose bases can be used either as transitive or intransitive verbs are all transitive verbs because the prefix re- only takes transitive verbs as its base. The following groups of verbs behave the same as the base verbs of the List A verbs in terms of 'transitive alternation'.

  • Group 1: bounce, coil, drift, drop, float, ...
  • Group 2: break, chip, crack, crash, crush, ...
  • Group 3: bend, crease, crinkle, crumple, ...
  • Group 4: abate, advance, age, balance, ...

Q1) Can the verbs of List A can be used as intransitive verbs as well?

Q2) If the verbs of List A can be used as intransitive ones, what should we do with the morphological rule that the prefix re- produces transitive verbs in combination with transitive verb bases?

Q3) Even though the number of the verbs showing 'transitivity alternation' is large as shown above, that of the verbs that do not alternate between intransitive and transitive use is much larger. Then, what condition do verbs allow to alternate between these two uses?

  • If you can find it, there is a lovely paper by Haj Ross called "Wording Up", which deals with these constructions and many others. It turns out that (Latin) prefixes (re-, de-, mis-, etc.) can't be used with (Germanic) phrasal verbs: re-locate, but not *re-look up; de-couple, but not *de-hook up. Prefix use is not really governed by the semantics of the verbs so much as their etymology; verbs from Latin tend to take prefixes, while Germanic verbs tend to make phrasal verbs. This is a distinction of long standing.
    – jlawler
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 18:43


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