Verbs can be tricky

rogersgeorge on October 17th, 2011

Regular readers of this humble site know that I’m a frequent reader of Scientific American. I can generally count on its English being as good as its science, though in recent years I manage to find more examples of how not to do something than I used to. Solecisms in that fine magazine are still few and far between, and perhaps my own increasing experience enables me to pounce on these misshapen gems. This item is a couple months old now, but the error is still a good warning to be careful what word you use.

English has two classifications of verbs, transitive and intransitive. You probably remember from high school English that transitive verbs take a direct object, intransitive verbs don’t, and some verbs can go either way. Sometimes a verb starts out innocently enough, but when you get into the past and perfect tenses, the forms differ depending on whether you want transitive or intransitive.

On to our example, taken from an online article earlier this year, Ten Things You Want to Know about Tornadoes.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the death toll had already raised to 118, ranking the event among the top 10 deadliest U.S. tornadoes of all time.

Our guilty word is “raised.” It’s transitive, but the usage here is intransitive—no direct object.  Here’s how these deceptive words go:

Transitive: raise, raised, raised—I raise the flag, I raised the flag, the tornado had already raised the, um, death toll.

Intransitive: rise, rose, risen—The sun rises, the sun rose yesterday, the death toll had risen every day last week.

Some words are the same in the present tense: “Shine,” for example. I can say the sun shines, and he shines my shoes, but in the past: the sun shone and I shined my shoes. Same thing for the perfect: The sun has shone every day this week, I have shined my shoes every day this week.

Some verbs are even more mixed up, the famous “lie” and “lay” mix-up. “Lie” is intransitive, and it goes lie, lay, lain. “Lay” is the transitive one, lay, laid laid. And let’s don’t even get into falsehoods: lie, lied, lied

We’ve all seen pictures of tornadoes, so here’s a NASA picture of a 39-mile tornado track in Massachusetts

Visible from space!

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