Volkheimer leaps immediately into a squat, his head coming around as the hounds release toward him, and Werner’s heart feels as if it has been blown to pieces in his chest. Volkheimer’s arms come up as the dogs charge him, but they know him; they are leaping on him in play, barking and scampering, and Werner watches the huge boy throw off the dogs as if they were housecats.

From All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

As far as I know the verb 'release' is a transitive verb, needing a direct object. In the above sentence it is used as an intransitive verb. What do you think?

  • Well, if it is used in a work of literature, and the meaning is clear, I guess it can be used thus. May 5, 2016 at 6:12
  • 1
    With *toward", the verb release there can be understood as a reflexive. A safety belt "releases". Steam releases to the atmosphere.
    – TimR
    May 5, 2016 at 11:29

1 Answer 1


It seems that the writer wants to be consistent in using verbs as follows:

  1. Volkheimer leaps (intransitive verb)
  2. his head coming around (intransitive verb)
  3. the hounds release (intransitive verb)
  4. Werner's heart feels (intransitive verb)
  5. as if it has been blown to pieces (transitive verb in the passive voice) ...

All the verbs before No. 5 above were used as an intransitive verb. The issue seems to be whether using to "release" as an intransitive verb would be confusing to readers or not. I don't think it causes any confusion as hounds have nothing to release and usually they are released from leashes.

All the dictionaries I looked up don't have a definition of to "release" as an intransitive verb and I don't think it is grammatically correct. However, a writer has "artistic license" with which they can alter the conventions of grammar or language. You can visit the Wikipedia link to read more about it.

  • In short, No, release is not an intransitive verb. However, literary passages can occasionally transcend rules of prescriptive grammar in general.
    – Kris
    Jun 18, 2018 at 6:15

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