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"Smooth," said Ron approvingly, as the waiters popped up on all sides, some bearing silver trays of pumpkin juice, Butterbeer and Firewhisky, others tottering piles of tarts and sandwiches.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I know 'totter' is an intransitive verb, but here it seems to be used as a transitive verb. I'm confused. Can it be transitive in any case?

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To "totter" means to move in an unsteady way; "tottering" is the gerund or present participle. As you may know, the present participle form of a verb can become an adjective.

So, "tottering" in your example means that the piles of food were perhaps so high that they were swaying from side to side. The piles were tottering.

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  • Does the phrase omit 'bearing'? others bearing tottering piles of tarts and sandwiches
    – dan
    Oct 3 '19 at 9:07
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    @dan There is no need to re-use the word. It has been established that the trays are bearing different items, and what follows is like a list. An example for contrast: "One girl was wearing a blue dress, the other a red one". There is no need to re-use the words "wearing" or "dress".
    – Astralbee
    Oct 3 '19 at 9:17

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