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Longman Online Dictionary gives out the following example sentence:

He rose, his eyes still fastened on the piece of paper.

Source: https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/fasten-your-eyes-gaze-on-somebody-something

To my eye, the verb "fasten" here could either be transitive or intransitive. In the intransitive case, it's pretty straightforward to understand. However, it could also be the case that "fasten" is transitive and whiz deletion is being applied.

Is there any way to tell which type of verb "fasten" is in this sentence?

FYI: After reading this question, I still lack a firm ground to decide on the matter.

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  • Can you accept that 'fastened' is a participial adjective? Commented Jul 2 at 10:07
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    Consistent with @MichaelHarvey’s comment, if you wish to see fastened as transitive, then its direct object is eyes: he fastened his eyes. Commented Jul 2 at 10:26
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    "fasten on" here is a phrasal verb, although used adjectivally as Micheal says. Commented Jul 2 at 10:35
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    The sense is "[with] his eyes still fastened on..." Commented Jul 2 at 10:36
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    @timchessish, I’m not sure it is a phrasal verb. Its fasten constituent isn’t literal, but its metaphoric imagery is pretty clear. And the on is equally clear. On this analysis, fastened on is completely analogous to glued to. Commented Jul 2 at 11:58

3 Answers 3

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He rose, [his eyes still fastened on the piece of paper]

"Fastened" has no object and hence is intransitive here.

The bracketed element is a supplement, a loosely attached expression set off by intonation and punctuation providing supplementary, non-integrated content.

In this case, the supplement consists of a non-finite clause containing a subject, and therefore it qualifies as an absolute construction.

Very often, past-participial clauses are interpreted as passive, but I don't think that is true here since it is difficult to imagine a suitable by phrase.

Even if it were a passive clause, it would still be intransitive since the effect of switching from the active to the passive is to switch from a transitive clause to an intransitive one.

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To add to the answer and comments (because no one has mentioned it): the -ed participial non-finite clause, while not containing a passive "be", is nevertheless interpreted as passive. So the passive non-finite clause

He rose, [his eyes fastened on something].

is equivalent to the passive finite clause ("his eyes" being the subject)

He rose. His eyes were fastened on something.

which is equivalent to the active finite clause ("his eyes" being the object)

He rose. He fastened his eyes on something.

So, yes, "fastened" is transitive here; intransitive verbs are not used in the passive.

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An absolute phrase is a group of words that modifies an independent clause as a whole. An absolute is made up of a noun and its modifiers (which frequently, but not always, include a participle or participial phrase).

Examples and more explanations are in the link.

In

He rose, [his eyes still fastened on the piece of paper].

the bracketed part is the absolute phrase.

The two key components, the noun and the participle are in bold.

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    But how does this address OP’S question about transitivity? Commented Jul 2 at 11:59
  • @SeowjoohengSingapore I wouldn't go along with all that you say. I agree that his eyes still fastened on the piece of paper is an absolute construction because it is non-finite and has a subject. But it's a supplement, not a modifier. A supplement is a loosely attached expression set off by intonation (and usually punctuation) providing supplementary, non-integrated content.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 3 at 8:05
  • The active transitive use of "he fastened his eyes" is rare and seems largely limited to Bible translators - it's found in the Knox Bible Luke 20:17 ("he fastened his eyes on them, and said") and KJV Acts 3:4 ("And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.") And the OED has a use from 1568 "If she once fasten hir eyes on a nother". So it's grammatical but not common. Passive is far more widely used; also a few intransitive "their eyes fastened on...".
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 3 at 9:12
  • Thanks, @BillJ. I have deleted some parts of my answer, leaving just the undisputed part. Commented Jul 5 at 10:21

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