Unergative Verbs – Examples

Verbs are the words that help us describe an action that someone or something can do. They are a core unit in English grammar without which a complete thought cannot be delivered.

We know that there are different types of verbs, and each has its own functionality. Among which are the two most important and common categories of verbs known as transitive verbs and intransitive verbs. The former type acts with a direct object, and the latter type performs without a direct object that is being acted upon.

These types are further divided into units of verbs that have their own unique applicability. And today, we are going to focus on one such unit of intransitive verbs known as the unergative verb. Unergative verbs are a part of intransitive verbs that are still very new to most people. So, let us discuss below to get a clear understanding of the concept.

What are Unergative Verbs?

As mentioned earlier, unergative verbs are a part of intransitive verbs. But before heading to understand unergative verbs, we need to know what intransitive verbs exactly are. Intransitive verbs are the type of verbs that acts alone with the subject without any direct object. This means, in an intransitive verb sentence, the object that is the receiver of the action is not present.

For example, “The dog ran” or “The girl spoke.” Here, we see that no direct object is mentioned in the sentence. So, these are called intransitive verbs.

Now we come to unergative verbs. Unergative verbs are simply a part of intransitive verbs that require only a single argument. Precisely, unergative verbs are a type of intransitive verbs that have only an agent-argument. It means they are semantically distinguished by describing an action being performed or experienced by the subject deliberately without the presence of the direct object.

Let us look at some examples.

  • The girl screamed.
  • The dog barked.
  • The girl I saw tripped.

Here, we see the subject is performing or experiencing the action. So, unergative verbs have only agents of action.

Difference between unaccusative verbs and unergative verbs

Unergative verbs are not the only part of intransitive verbs. Along with unergative, we have another known as the unaccusative verb.

To most people, unaccusative verb and unergative verb are very new terms, and they often confuse them or fail to understand. But today, we will try to break them into simple definitions and distinguish them to avoid further confusion.

Unaccusative verbs and unergative verbs are both parts of intransitive verbs that require only one argument. But unaccusative verbs are different because they are the verbs that have only a theme argument, while unergative verbs have an agent argument.

In simple words, unaccusative verbs describe an action that just happens. There is no involvement on the subject’s part. For example,

  • The glass broke.
  • The lighter exploded.

Here, the subjects are not taking any voluntary actions. Or, to be simply put, the subjects are semantic, meaning objects.

On the other hand, unergative verbs are something that someone does. The subject is performing something. For example,

  • The teacher shouted.
  • The cat screamed.

So, we have unergative verbs that are semantically distinguished by having an agent argument. They might seem confusing, but these points will definitely help.

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