Get Dressed, Your Bed Made, and Your Teeth Brushed
Posted by Neal on October 3, 2005
The other morning, I was surprised to hear myself saying to Doug that he could do something or other that he wanted to do,
…after you’ve gotten dressed, your bed made, and your teeth brushed.
Using only a single get, I finished the sentence with a three-piece coordination, which would look like this if it were (partially) unpacked:
- gotten dressed,
- gotten your bed made,
- gotten your teeth brushed.
In the first item in the list, we have the intranstive variety of get, followed only by an adjective (dressed). In the second and third items, it’s transitive get, followed by a direct object (your bed, your teeth) and then the adjective (made, brushed). So in the quotation from me, get has to be both intransitive and transitive.
I’ve learned that using a verb as both intransitive and transitive simultaneously isn’t that unusual. Verbs such as eat can do it pretty easily, as in this sentence from a letter to the editor I once read:
Don’t eat fast food, or at restaurants, food-service companies, or caterers.
Followed by the noun phrase fast food, the verb eat is transitive, but followed by the prepositional phrase at R’s, FSC’s, or C’s, it’s intransitive.
But with eat, whether it’s transitive or intransitive, the subject is still the one doing the biting, chewing, and swallowing. If you choose a verb whose transitive and intransitive subjects don’t play the same role, using it both ways at once is much more difficult. For example, the subject of intransitive walk is the one who does the walking; but the subject of transitive walk is the one who makes someone else do the walking. If we try a coordination that forces burn to be parsed both ways, it doesn’t work:
*This morning I walked three times around the block and my dog.
*This morning I walked my dog and three times around the block.
Actually, the first of those sentence is grammatical, but only if you mean that you walked around the block and your dog three times–in other words, if walked is only intransitive. And come to think of it, the second one could be grammatical, too, if you mean something like, “I walked my dog, and I did it three times around the block.” (Russel Lee-Goldman of Noncompositional talks about this kind of “Do it, and fast” coordination here.) But again, it’s parsed in only one way, this time as a transitive.
And so my spontaneous coordination with get was surprising, since the subject of intransitive get is the one undergoing some change of state, while the subject of transitive get is the one causing something else to undergo some change of state. In fact, I’ve heard it used this way only once before, from my sister-in-law a few years ago, when she said,
[The karate lessons] make it tough for him to get his things done and to bed on time.
Well, that’s enough. Now I need to get this post done, and busy with the stuff I really need to do tonight.