Learn English – How to distinguish between uses of words like ‘Marry’


Marry can be used both transitively:

"Paul Married Jane"

and intransitively:

"I got married".

Thus making the word ambitransitive

But it has a third use:

"Paul, the vicar Married Jane to Bob"

The last use is certainly transitive, but what is the word for this use?

Is this to do with (un)accusative and (un)ergative verbs?

Best Answer

"Words like Marry" are called Reciprocal Verbs, or Predicates, or Constructions.

They refer to sets (normally couples) of agents, instead of to a single agent. Marry is prototypic. Reciprocal predicates have unusual syntactic affordances, like the ability to swap subject and object without altering meaning. Note:

  • Bill and Sue married yesterday (dual subject, intransitive)
  • Bill married Sue yesterday ~ Sue married Bill yesterday (subj~obj swap, transitive)

These meanings of marry are Inchoative -- they refer to change of state. Bill and Sue entered the state of being married, a Stative meaning. The adjective married describes the state, not the event of its inception:

  • Bill and Sue are married (predicate adjective, not a passive)
  • Bill is married to Sue ~ Sue is married to Bill
  • Bill is married ~ Bill is a married man
  • Sue is married ~ Sue is a married woman
  • George is not married ~ George is an unmarried man

but note

  • George is not married to Sue vs *George is unmarried to Sue

Finally, as usual when there is a Stative and an Inchoative sense of a verb (whether reciprocal or not), there is also a Causative sense of marry, meaning 'Cause to marry', and running through all the changes of the other senses, viz

  • George married Bill and Sue.
  • George married Bill to Sue. ~ George married Sue to Bill.
  • Sue's father married her off young (to Bill).
  • The couple's parents married them off young.

To summarize, marry has

  1. a stative sense as a predicate adjective be married
    (derived from a past participle, but without verbal powers)
  2. an inchoative sense meaning 'come to be/become married'
    (a reciprocal verb, allowing argument-swapping)
  3. a causative sense meaning 'cause to become married'
    (in several senses of cause, and several senses of marry)

Each one has different uses, constructions, and stigmata.

Related Question