3rd Form: The predicate consists of (1) a verb and (2) an object, which denotes the person or thing which the action of the verb ‘passes over.’

–– C. T. Onions

What does ‘passes over’ mean?

  • 1
    In other words, affects. – Alex B. Dec 5 '13 at 0:36

Pass here is the second sense in OALD:

2 [INTRANSITIVE] + adverb/preposition to go or move in the direction mentioned
The procession passed slowly along the street.
A plane passed low overhead.

Onions puts 'passes over' in quotes for two reasons:

  • because it is a literal translation of the common grammatical term transitive, from Latin trans = ‘across, over’ + ire = ‘to go, to pass’
  • because the notion of the “action” of the verb “passing over” its object is merely a metaphor for a grammatical relationship which is very difficult to put into words. How on earth do you describe transitivity in a manner which captures the very different relationships between the verb and its objects in these sentences?

    StoneyB loves gooey butter cake.
    Ryan whacked his little sister.
    Listenever studies English grammar.

    Onions adopts the language of his classical predecessors while making an effort to acknowledge that the language is inadequate.


I found a similar (though not identical) definition in Google Book.

Under Types of verbs, it says

Types of verbs: Transitive and intransitive verbs. Transitive verb is a verb which denotes an action which passes over from the subject to an object. The intransitive verb is a verb which denotes an action which does not pass over to an object or which expresses a state or being. For example, he ran a long distance.

The use of this passes over is similar to the definition "to leave out" in the Free Online Dictionary.

pass over: To leave out; disregard.

Having said that, it seems more like we could interpret "passes over" here (in both OP's quote and the above quote) simply as pass (verb) and over (preposition), i.e. to pass an action over from the subject to an object.

  • What you quoted is very helpful. But your interpretation I don't get much: 'the action of the verb disregards the person or thing'? I'd rather guess 'pass over' might be 'to go [affect] toward [the person or thing]' – Listenever Dec 4 '13 at 5:55
  • Agreed. I wouldn't choose disregard myself too, but I think interpreting "passes over" as "to leave out" is passable. (Because it's the action that pass from the subject to an object.) To me, "act upon" might be a better choice, but I couldn't find that in the dictionary. --In my language, we simply say the subject acts upon the object. Much simpler, right?:) – Damkerng T. Dec 4 '13 at 5:58
  • That leads me to think that 'pass over' is not a two words phrase, but 'pass'(intransitive) plus 'over'(preposition) that takes 'the person or thing' as its complement. – Listenever Dec 4 '13 at 6:02
  • Me too. The sentence would be perfectly understandable without "over". Should I choose other definition from "pass" in that dictionary instead? – Damkerng T. Dec 4 '13 at 6:05
  • @Listenever Right, "pass over" is not a phrase. It is however an idiomatic combination of words, and idioms need not be syntactic constituents. Idioms like these are often referred to as "phrasal verbs" even though they are not, in fact, phrases. – snailplane Dec 4 '13 at 6:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.