Section 20 == *more help*


20.1 = Transitive and intransitive verbs

What are the two great archetypal verbs? Modern American students often guess "to be" and "to have" (which is especially enjoyable since in Urdu there's no verb at all for "to have"). But traditionally of course they're "to be," the archetypal "intransitive" verb, and "to do," the archetypal transitive (=action-transmitting) verb. Intransitive verbs are basically about you and your body: living, dying, smiling, weeping, breathing, sleeping, waking, etc. Transitive verbs, of which there are not surprisingly far more, are about your transactions with the outside world: "She hit the ball" transmits action from an agent to an object.

In Urdu, transitive verbs in the perfect forms are signaled by the little ergative particle ne after the subject-- which itself sometimes has a special form designed for preceding ne , most conspicuously in the case of unho;N ne and its relatives. (In Mir's day, it was possible to use just un ne -- but alas, no longer.) Eastern Hindi frequently dispenses with the ergative entirely; but then, Nepali is said to have a "double ergative," which sounds nightmarish. If you want to make conversation with a linguist at a party, mention the ergative and see his or her eyes light up. It's easy for linguists to enjoy it, they're just theorists. But from the point of view of a language learner, it's a nasty little devil. I remember when I first encountered it-- I told my teacher that she just had to be wrong, it just couldn't work like that! But alas, it does.

In Urdu/Hindi, transitive and intransitive (or sometimes, "super-transitive" and transitive) verb pairs are very common, and very helpful. One might say that the highly irregular but archetypal pair of karnaa (trans.) and honaa (its intrans. counterpart) should take pride of place among them, but let's confine ourselves to the visibly linked pairs. They take a variety of forms; here are some examples:

kholnaa , to open (trans.) khulnaa , to become open (intrans.)
maarnaa , to strike, to kill (trans.) marnaa , to die (intrans.)
jalaanaa , to set fire to (trans.) jalnaa , to burn (intrans.)
sulaanaa , to put to sleep (causative, trans.) sonaa , to sleep (intrans; normally so jaanaa )
bulaanaa , to call (doesn't mean "to cause to speak"; trans.) bolnaa , to speak (intrans.)
banaanaa , to make (trans.) bannaa , to become (intrans.)
karaanaa , to cause to do (causative, trans.) karnaa , to do (trans.)
dikhaanaa , to show ("to cause to see," trans.) dekhnaa , to see (trans.)
sunaanaa , to recite ("to cause to hear," trans.) sunnaa , to hear (trans.)
   

In pairs like this, it's always clear that one member of the pair has more "vowel power" than the other. (The only exceptions I can think of are samajhnaa , "to consider, believe"; khonaa , "to lose"; and badalnaa , "to change," which all move from transitive to intransitive without any change in outward form.) The member of the pair that has more "vowel power" is always transitive. The member with less vowel power may be intransitive-- but it may also be transitive too.

Intransitive verbs are NOT the same as passives. They are kind of fascinating. I think of them as lily pads floating on the water, while transitives are powerful birds that fly up and then also swoop down below the surface of the water to grab fish (the fish are the passives). An intransitive verb has no agent lurking in its vicinity at all. Like "the door opened," darvaazah khulaa gives no hint of why (a breeze? a broken hinge? an intruder? a pet cat?).


20.2 = The two great rules of the passive

Transitive verbs can be inverted to make passives: if "she hit the ball," then "the ball was hit by her" (The ball would say, "I was hit!".) By contrast, if "Susie slept," then there's nothing to invert-- "sleeping was slept by Susie"? This is why, basically, passives can only be made out of transitive verbs.

Of course, there are some large grey areas (for example, "to understand" can be, in both English and Urdu, either transitive or intransitive), some oddities ( laanaa , which ought to be a classic transitive, is a contraction of le aanaa and thus is technically intransitive) and a few small exceptions ( yahaa;N bai;Thaa nahii;N jaataa is a way of forbidding anyone to sit here). But still, for a language learner, simplicity is extremely valuable. Trust me on this: the first great rule to remember about the passive is: PASSIVES CAN ONLY BE MADE OUT OF TRANSITIVE VERBS.

(Of course, there are exceptions to this rule: there are certain kinds of passives made out of intransitives that express absolute impossibility or forbiddenness of some kind: yahaa;N bai;Thaa nahii;N jaataa and the like. But while you're learning the language and nailing down the forms in your mind, you'll be wiser to ignore these few counter-instances, and focus on the basic principles.)

And the second great rule of the passive is: THE PASSIVE CONSISTS OF THE PERFECT PLUS jaanaa . The perfect has three of its usual four forms (e.g., dekhaa , dekhe , dekhii ; no dekhii;N occurs in the passive). And the rest of the work of showing time and mode and gender and number is done by the appropriate form of jaanaa .

In English it's common to indicate the agent of passive verbs ("the ball was hit by Susie"). In Urdu/Hindi, it's very uncommon, probably because the awkward construction "by means of" ( ke ;zarii((ah or ke dvaaraa ) is used; in theory you might use se instead, but in practice people usually just don't specify the agent with passives. If you need to specify an agent, don't use the passive.

The difference in meaning between a passive and an intransitive is that in a passive, an (unidentified) agent is always lurking behind the scenes: compare kholaa gayaa , "was opened" (from the ne verb kholnaa ), with khul gayaa , "opened" (from the non- ne verb khulnaa , compounded with jaanaa ). Likewise jalaayaa gayaa , "was burned," versus jal gayaa , "burned," and so on. These forms are often confused by people who don't know any grammar; but never, dear reader, by those who know the real structure of the language.

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