I have this list for comparing verbs for their being ergative or not. As you see, bother is not on that list. But I have sentences in which that verb seems to be ergative.
For example:

She may bother to sweep the room just now.
Joseph bothered by the cancellation.
Sally bothered.

Is bother an ergative verb? If not, what are the meanings of those immediately above sentences please?

  • 1
    This is an interesting question, but I wonder whether it belongs on ELL as written. I am a native AmE speaker (for many decades) and reasonably well-educated, but was not familiar with the term ergative. Would English Language Learners really know this word?
    – shoover
    Jan 27, 2017 at 22:53
  • @shoover: I'm a Kurdish person and since I'd like to learn each part of English grammar, I focused on this matter.
    – Abbasi
    Jan 28, 2017 at 8:52

2 Answers 2


Bother indeed has both transitive and intransitive senses, and they all have the general sense "trouble"; but they are used in slightly different ways.

  • Transitive bother means to "cause trouble" for a person, who is cast as the direct object. When the subject is an animate agent, it typically means to annoy the DO by intruding on the DO's activity; when the subject is inanimate, it typically means to worry the DO.

    My little brother won't stop bothering me when I'm trying to work.
    This proposal bothers me.

  • Intransitive bother means to "take the trouble" to do something. It is typically used only in negative contexts.

    Don't bother to clear the table; I'll put my stuff away in a minute.
    If she won't bother to tell us what the problem is I don't see how we can help.

None of your three sentences is quite idiomatic. The first has no negative to trigger use of bother; the second lacks a passive auxiliary (was or is bothered), and the third lacks a negative and the obligatory infinitival complement.

Ergative is occasionally used to categorize verbs like bother, and I used it back in ELL's early days; but it has a distinct technical meaning in other contexts, and snailplane suggested a better term: labile.

  • Thank you. So does :"Don't bother to clear the table" mean "Don't take the trouble to clear the table"? Is the ""take the trouble"" meaning the same as above in "if she won't bother to tell us" too?
    – Abbasi
    Jan 27, 2017 at 20:01
  • Do you agree "is occasionally used to categorize" should be "is occasionally used to categorizing"?
    – Abbasi
    Jan 27, 2017 at 20:01
  • 1
    @Abbasi To your first, Yes. To your second, No: used to VERB, used for VERBing. Jan 27, 2017 at 20:09
  • The last question on the answer your supplied. Is "Did you bother?" correct? And can we mean the word bother when it's in negative and intransitive form as "don't take the trouble" in sentences commonly? (I will make a new thread shortly on the "subject + be/get used to + verb" and "subject + used to + verb". Thanks you so much.
    – Abbasi
    Jan 27, 2017 at 20:22
  • 1
    @abassi Did you bother? is fine: the question 'accommodates' a negative understanding. And Don't bother is fine, too. Note that both presuppose an infinitival (to VERB) recoverable from the context. ... We have many questions about the contrast between adjectival used*+prepositional *to and verbal *used*+infinitival--for instance, [ell.stackexchange.com/q/23682/32]. Look for them before posting anything. Jan 27, 2017 at 20:26

Bother is not an ergative verb by my understanding, specifically in the cases of the sentences provided. In those sentences, the meaning of bother/bothered changes.

  1. She may choose/decide to sweep the room right now.
  2. Joseph [was] concerned by the cancellation.
  3. Sally fussed.

In these instances the verb would not make sense if the subject had changed.

I based this using the definition and text provided by Ergative verb - Wikipedia

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