The following sentences appear to be grammatically correct but I have a question regarding the last sentence.

  1. The event has started.
  2. The event has ended.
  3. The event has been canceled.
  4. The event has canceled.

The first 3 sentences sound natural to my ear but the last sentence doesn't. However, I couldn't explain why. With the last sentence, it looks like the meaning is that the event canceled itself which doesn't make sense. However, in the first and the second sentences, started and ended don't seem to mean that the event started and ended itself but started and ended by something so they make sense. The third sentence also makes sense compared to the last sentence.

Can anyone clarify what is wrong with the last sentence or is it natural?

1 Answer 1


You're quite right. The reason is that "to cancel" is a transitive verb. That is, it takes an object: "I cancel something". I can't just "cancel".

"The event has canceled" [note the American spelling of the word that in British English is spelt "cancelled"] means "the event took some action which had the effect of cancelling". It is missing a direct object, so it is very unnatural.

The correct phrasing of that sentence is:

The event has been cancelled.

That is, it becomes natural when it moves into the passive voice.

By contrast, "to start" can take a direct object, but it doesn't have to. If the object of "start" (or "end") is missed out, the object is inferred from context.

  • Thanks Patrick. I got what you mean. After checking different dictionaries, I found out that cancel can also be intransitive if the meaning is to neutralize something. But since to neutralize is not the meaning of the example sentences, I understand that it should be transitive and I got your point and now partially understand why the last sentence sounds strange. Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 5:26
  • However, there's something in the Cambridge dictionary that confuses me: dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/cancel. For the intransitive meaning of cancel, Cambridge says to decide that something arranged in advance will not happen. Can that meaning be applied to my last example sentence? That is, if something (event) will not happen. For example, The event (arranged in advance) has cancelled) - that is, based on Cambridge's definition about the intransitive usage. Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 5:30
  • 1
    @user1764381 That usage is more American (I'm native British). "I have to cancel" does make sense, but I don't think I've ever heard it without a modal verb in front of it, and in any case in British English it's more likely to be "I have to cancel it/our appointment/*thing*". That is, I don't think I've ever heard "I cancel." or "I'm cancelling." or "She cancelled.". Certainly an event can't cancel; there should always be an implied object ("the appointment", "our meeting"), but your "The event has canceled" doesn't have an implied object. Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 10:53

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