Neutral Verbs in English
A Preliminary Classification
This article presents a first attempt at systematically classifying neutral verbs in English. Neutrality, also known as the ergative construction or the causative alternation, is present when the following equation holds: (1) N0 V N1 = N1 V In the following sentences, for example: (2) a. Max chimed the bells. b. The bells chimed. (3) a. The enemy sank the battleship. b. The battleship sank. the direct object of the (a) sentence is the subject of the (b) sentence, and the meanings are similar. Following Boons, Guillet, Leclère (1976), who presented a classification of over 400 neutral verbs of French, we systematically examined the English lexicon and compiled a list of over 500 neutral verbs of English, indicating an appropriate N1 along with the morphological properties of human and non-human for each N0 and N1. A preliminary glance at these verbs suggests that the morphological and transformational properties associated with each verb are highly idiosyncratic. Furthermore, this study shows that although certain semantic classes tend to favor neutrality, they do not automatically assure it, and presents further evidence for building a formal lexicon, or lexicon-grammar, where pertinent lexical and syntactic information is listed for each individual verb.