This question was inspired by this question asked previously.

I have seen some sentences like the following -

  1. The film was announced to be released on this coming Friday.

  2. The film was announced to release on this coming Friday.

Both the sentences are used, and I know they are interchangeable and do bear the same meaning. But I have some doubt about the second sentence - Why is "to release" used when the film can't release itself?

Some other similar sentence that arises my confusion:

The products sell well.

This is pretty understandable, and means "The product is being sold well.". The product can't sell itself on its own. They need someone to sell the product.


I'm pretty sure these are examples of anticausative verbs in English. Even though the inanimate object cannot be doing the action of the sentence, we use active voice to describe a passive action. In general, the anticausative can only be formed with inanimate objects like this:

The water for tea boiled.

The door slammed.

They also can only happen with verbs that can be either intransitive or transitive, which means that you can also use passive voice to describe the same thing.

The door slammed.

The door was slammed.

Hope this helps!

  • 1
    +1 You might include links to further discussion, such as Wikipedia. This is also called middle voice or middle construction; There is a question on the Linguistics where one answer has a long bibliography. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 28 '14 at 15:08
  • @StoneyB Well, now I saw the link but the obvious questions for a learners of English as a second language is how to decide which verb to use this way and which not? – Man_From_India Apr 28 '14 at 15:22
  • @Man_From_India That's a very good question, and I'm afraid I can't give you a satisfactory answer. Broadly, any transitive verb which results in a change of state for its direct object might be used this way; but which verbs are used this way is a matter of historical and dialectal accident. For instance, to the best of my knowledge release is used this way only by PR/marketing people, and only of products; no one would ever say "The prisoners will release on Friday." All I can suggest is that if you want to use a verb this way, Google it and see if anybody does use it this way. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 28 '14 at 15:32
  • @StoneyB No problem for that. That is actually quite good input. But let's see if I can get anything satisfactory. I have came across some PDFs through google search, but they are not only lengthy but don't make sense to me at all. They are all linguistic papers, and I think if I could understood them, I might have got some key to my problems. Thanks again. – Man_From_India Apr 28 '14 at 15:40
  • @Man_From_India Good luck! It's a complicated subject, requiring a pretty high degree of sophistication; and unhappily, technical literature does not read easily :) – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 28 '14 at 16:06

In English a normal verb can have several special uses.

The normal use of to run is without an object. But you can use it as a transitive verb: to run a shop meaning someone makes the shop run well. One might call this use " factive" use from Latin facere to make.

to read is normally used with an object or without: She is reading (a novel). But you can say the novel reads well. This is a kind of reflexive use without a reflexive pronoun. In French the passive of transitive verbs is often made with the reflexive pronoun:

  • faire quelque chose - to do something
  • La chose se fait come ça. - It is done this way. - Word for word: the thing does itself this way.

It seems this reflexive use has influenced English. And as English tends to drop the reflexive pronoun where it is possible, English omits the reflexive pronoun.

It is not difficult to find transitive verbs in English used without an object with a reflexive sense, eg you can turn a wheel/a knob/a screw, and something can turn: The Earth turns round the sun.

  • Is there any grammatical article or anything on this topic? – Man_From_India Apr 26 '14 at 13:23
  • @Man_From_India There should be articles on this topic but I haven't found anything yet. I just gave my view of things. – rogermue Apr 26 '14 at 18:47

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