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This book reads very well.

The usage of the verb read is unusual. Because it doesn't say here that the book reads something, but someone reads the book. Can you give me a hint what is this grammar point called?

Can I say these?

This story tells very well.

This wine drinks smoothly.

This show watches well.

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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I would say, when in doubt, check a dictionary.

As for the initial example ("This book reads very well"), that's clearly an acceptable use of the word – as indicated by Collins Def. #8:

   ⇒  I read this speech as satire, this book reads well

As for your second example ("This wine drinks smoothly"), I understand what you're saying, and English is flexible enough to let you get away with non-standard usages like that. However, it's worth knowing when such a usage is recognized by a dictionary, and when it isn't. Collins' entry for drink shows some interesting uses of the verb:

   ⇒  he drank in the speaker's every word
   ⇒  he drank away his fortune

but "This wine drinks smoothly" is not included among the recognized, valid uses.

So, here's my bottom-line advice: Know what you're doing. Language evolves; someone has to be the innovator and use the verb intransitively first, if "...and the wine drank smoothly" is to ever start showing up on the pages of restaurant reviews. However, if you use a word that way, you should know that you're using it in a non-standard way, and be sure the context doesn't demand you switch to a more standard wording. You may think you're being clever with the language, but for every reader who agrees with you, there will probably be some pedant dubbing you "illiterate," claiming you don't know how to write. (As an example, there was once a hullabaloo over at ELU when someone – gasp! – dared used the word "fun" as an adjective).

English has ways of allowing someone to turn nouns into adjectives, and transitive verbs into intransitive verbs – but just because we can doesn't always mean we should.

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I think that here, in this case, it is the special use of an intransitive verb with adverb/preposition.

read (v): [intransitive] + adverb/preposition - to give a particular impression when read.

All your examples sound okay to me!

Not a part of this answer but...

"Because it doesn't say here that the book reads something..."

A tongue in cheek example includes - English is the language where your feet smell and nose runs!

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Your example is easily proven wrong, as in Dutch your nose and feet do the same :P (Je neus loopt en je voeten ruiken) –  oerkelens Feb 3 at 9:48
    
Oh! I wasn't aware of it! –  Maulik V Feb 3 at 9:49
1  
Well, one can hardly expect you to be aware of all intricacies of all languages :) For now, focus on your English as you are doing great there :) –  oerkelens Feb 3 at 9:52
    
@DamkerngT. Mea culpa! Blundre it was. –  Maulik V Feb 3 at 10:43
    
@oerkelens - So, are you sanctioning that example? ;^) –  J.R. Feb 3 at 11:01
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I couldn't tell you for sure about your three examples (tell, drink, watch). However, I believe that you will find this entry from Practical English Grammar by Michael Swan, really helpful.

609 verbs with both active and passive meanings

1 She opened the door / The door opened

Some verbs are used transitively and intransitively with different kinds of subject. The intransitive use has a meaning rather like a passive (see 412) or reflexive (see 493) verb.
Compare:
- She opened the door.
  The door opened.
  [...]
- We're selling a lot of copies of your book.
  Your book's selling well.
  [...]

2 It scratches easily

The intransitive structure is used with a lot of verbs that refer to things we can do to materials: for example bend, break, crack, melt, polish, scratch, stain, tear, unscrew.
    Be careful what you put on the table - it scratches easily. (= You can easily scratch it.)
    These glasses are so fragile: they break if you look at them.
    The carpet's made of a special material that doesn't stain.
    The handle won't unscrew - can you help me?

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