I was reading a English grammar book and it was mentioned that "turn" is a inchoative verb and if "turn" is used as a inchoative verb and used with a noun then you cannot have an indefinite article with it.

A correct example shown in the book was - I believe you will never turn traitor.

My question is this sentence incorrect (I used "into" preposition in-between) - I believe you will never turn into traitor.

Also, please provide explanation for either answer you may give.

1 Answer 1


Turn, when inchoative, doesn't need into. The inchoative use is things like turn red or turn evil, meaning to develop a characteristic. This usually takes an adjective as object, but there are several uses where it takes a noun that describes a characteristic of a person, generally representing some sort of diametric change - moving from one thing to its opposite or complement. For example, a common metaphor for a criminal who has turned to working against crime would be:

He was a poacher turned gamekeeper.

A gamekeeper being one whose job it is, among other things, to stop poachers.

Turn traitor is one of these examples, appearing in Oxford as a set phrase. It is, however, the same structure as "turned gamekeeper" in the saying above. It means to develop the characteristics of "being a traitor".

Now, you can use to turn with an argument using into. A witch might turn someone into a toad, after all, or a good man turn into a monster (metaphorically, usually). However, in that case, you do need appropriate articles. Thus, if you want the turn into version, you want:

I believe you will never turn into a traitor.

That, however, suggests the person fundamentally changing, rather than simply betraying someone. They were not a traitor, and then they were, which might seem like the same meaning as turn traitor, but the nuance is definitely different. If someone turns X, it is a decision they have taken, a change in the course of their life perhaps, but if someone turns into X they have generally changed in some fundamental, deep way.

  • Amazing answer, thank you. Could you please help with one more answer before I accept your answer - with "turn into" why you need an article, why you can have ".... turn into traitor"? Could you please recommend some good online resources or English grammar tutorials where I can read all this what you have said.
    – pjj
    Commented Mar 30, 2019 at 23:02
  • Turn used that way is archaic except in surviving set phrases. It conveys the idea of a reversal of loyalty. To turn traitor is to abandon a person, organisation, country, etc, and work for an enemy. For a poacher to turn gamekeeper, likewise. In Britain, and Commonwealth countries. when a group of people are jointly accused of criminal actions, one of them might decide to avoid or reduce punishment by giving evidence against the others, and this is called "turning King's evidence" (or Queen's if the monarch is female). In the US, one turns "state's evidence" or 'flips'. Commented Mar 30, 2019 at 23:48
  • @MichaelHarvey: or one might simply be described as having "turned". But I wouldn't say it's just set phrases - I think new coinages along similar lines would also be readily accepted.
    – SamBC
    Commented Mar 31, 2019 at 0:00
  • @pjj: I'm afraid I can't recommend good online resources, because being a native speaker, I never learned all this formally. I later learned, in drips and drabs, some of the technical terminology, but how it actually works I learned before I could analyse any of it intellectually. As to why "turn into" requires an article, it requires an article where an article would generally be required - it is situations that don't that are exceptional, and might require an explanation. "Traitor" in a countable noun, so gets an article.
    – SamBC
    Commented Mar 31, 2019 at 0:04

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