Sunday, February 1, 2009


inure [in-YOOR]
transitive v. to make accustomed or used to something painful, difficult, or inconvenient, as "inured to drudgery and distress."
intransitive v. to become of advantage, as "policies that inure to the benefit of employees".

[Derives from prefix in-, "in" + obsolete ure, "use, work," from Old French uevre, "work," from Latin opera, "trouble, pains, exertion," from opus, "work."]

When I was maybe in the 5th grade -- playing a word game called Mad Libs with Damien and Paul Rossi, who attended Catholic school -- I recall them asking me to come up with an adverb to complete the Mad Lib. I had no idea at the time -- thanks to my public school education -- what an adverb was. In contrast to St. James, West Davis Intermediate School didn't teach grammar. We never parsed sentences. We barely learned what nouns and verbs were. Almost all that I know now about language I picked up extramurally, some of it watching Schoolhouse Rock: "Conjunction junction, what's your function?".

But one thing I never learned was the difference between a transitive and an intransitive verb. Inure is of interest to me because it has two distinct meanings, one transitive, the other intransitive.

Looking this up, a transitive verb is a verb that requires both a direct subject and a direct object. A transitive verb is incomplete without its direct object:

The basket holds ... ; The basket holds two loafs of bread.
The principal picked ... ; The principal picked a new hall monitor.
The acrobat broke ... ; The acrobat broke his leg.

By contrast, an instransitive verb can not take a direct object. For example, "I slept, you complained and he died."

Intransitive verbs can take prepositional phrases which act as adverbs: "This plant has thrived on the south windowsill." The prepositional phrase "on the south windowsill" acts as an adverb, describing where the plant thrives.

An intransitive verb can also be modified by a noun phrase: "The train from Sacramento arrived four hours late." The noun phrase "four hours late" acts as an adverb, describing when the train arrived.

Some verbs, including inure, mean different things when used transitively or intransitively.

Transitive: "Betty should leave her clothes on."
Intransitive: "Betty should leave."

Transitive: "The agriculture bill inured the farmers." (It hardened them.)
Intransitive: "The agriculture bill inured to the benefit of farmers." (It paid them.)

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