In "Approval was given, and Ju's art displayed." how can the transitive verb 'display' be used without an object?



I have read a sentence like that from a magazine:

"Approval was given, and Ju's art displayed."

Since the word display is a transitive verb, how can it be used like this without an object?


Posted 2015-09-07T08:04:30.570

Reputation: 51



The Original Poster's Example

"Approval was given, and Ju's art displayed."

This example might be confusing for learners because it has a word missing! This isn't a mistake. It is an example of ELLIPSIS. Sometimes, we can leave out words from the sentence when the listener can understand them. The grammatical name for this is 'ellipsis'. This often happens if we have two clauses joined by and. The Original Poster's example means:

  • Approval was given, and Ju's art [was] displayed.

Here the second clause means Ju's art was displayed. The writer does not need to use the auxiliary was a second time. We understand the was from the first clause. This is a passive sentence, so we do not see an Object. The thing that was displayed is the Subject of the passive clause.

Notes on Objects and passives

In a declarative sentence, if the verb usually appears in transitive clauses, we will see an Object:

  • They shot Bob.

However, if we turn the sentence into a passive sentence, the Object in the first sentence will be the Subject in the new sentence:

  • Bob was shot.

Here we still understand that someone else shot Bob. Bob was not shooting anybody. He is still receiving the bullet. But in the grammar Bob is now the Subject. So in a passive sentence, one of the Objects will become the Subject.

If a verb, like GIVE, for example, normally takes two Objects, then we will only see one of them in a passive version:

  • They gave [Bob] [a book].
  • Bob was given [a book].

The second sentence above only has one Object. This is because Bob, which is an Object in the first sentence is now a Subject in the second example. The two sentences still give us the same information though.

When we talk about transitive verbs, this is a bit misleading. We really need to talk about transitive clauses, not transitive verbs. Most "transitive verbs" can actually be used in sentences without an Object. For example, think about the verb GIVE. We can use it in an intransitive clause like this:

  • I'm tired of giving, giving, giving all the time.

Araucaria - Not here any more.

Posted 2015-09-07T08:04:30.570

Reputation: 25 536


It isn't being used without an object. It's in passive voice.

First of all, there's an implied "was" before "displayed". This disappears via a common mechanism in English grammar called ellipsis. So the remaining "was" effectively applies both to "given" and "displayed".

And both "was given" and "...was displayed" are to be understood as passive voice.

The object is Ju's art.

In active voice:

(Somebody) gave approval, and (somebody) displayed Ju's art.

Brian Hitchcock

Posted 2015-09-07T08:04:30.570

Reputation: 8 181

elision? What's elision in this? – Maulik V – 2015-09-07T10:09:47.797

What if it goes like this: Approval was not given, Ju's art displayed. – Maulik V – 2015-09-07T10:10:49.040

Ju's art got displayed - is there any difference then? You mean 'ellipses'? – Maulik V – 2015-09-07T10:24:12.487

Right you are. My bad. It's Ellipsis. – Brian Hitchcock – 2015-09-07T10:32:02.723

Elision is a related process, but usually operates on a segmental level. – jimsug – 2015-09-07T10:35:39.590

In the negative, you'd need at least a "nor": Approval was not given, nor [was] Ju's art displayed." I'd be inclined to include the "was", but it's not strictly necessary. – Brian Hitchcock – 2015-09-07T10:35:56.267

@BrianHitchcock Argh! you beat me to that bit while I was teaching my first lesson. Came back and there it was. However, one niggle. You say it isn't being used without an Object - but it is. Ju's art is the Subject of the sentence, not the Object! – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-09-07T10:54:09.133

@MaulikV: your example “Approval was not given, Ju’s art displayed” is not good English. Just as in the original case, there was an and, similarly, ellipsis of a negative verb needs to be marked with a nor. So you would say “Approval was not given, nor [was] Ju’s art displayed.” – PLL – 2015-09-07T18:08:53.437

@araucaria: intransitive verbs have an object but no (stated) subject. – Brian Hitchcock – 2015-09-08T02:28:06.497

@PLL I know that. That's the reason I asked it! – Maulik V – 2015-09-08T04:30:04.047

@brian do you mean "passive clauses have an object but no stated subject"? – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-09-08T07:40:37.957

@BrianHitchcock Hi old bean. You really need to change that. The Object in an active sentence becomes the Subject in a passive sentence. We can't say that "it isn't being used without an Object" - It *is* being used without an Object! – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-09-08T09:01:21.490

@aurucaria: yes, maybe I did mean (or rather, should have said) "passive clauses". As for object vs.subject, please feel free to supply your own answer, which better addresses that aspect. – Brian Hitchcock – 2015-09-09T05:58:36.920

@BrianHitchcock Have rearranged my answer to make that clear, but that's not really the problem. We need the answers here to be factually correct and not misleading for learners. This particular point is not about opinions, it's about the facts of the grammar. Your answer would be superb if you corrected this point ( much better than mine). But as it stands it's damaging for learners :( – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-09-09T10:11:39.247


This is to add to the two answers that understand the sentence correctly.

Approval was given, and Ju's art (was) displayed.

is an example of ellipsis (or elliptical construction), where was is omitted. This omission is not a mistake, and the sentence is not ungrammatical. The writer just uses a literary device, ellipsis.

Another matter discussed in some of the comments here is: what if the sentence were Approval was not given, ... The answer is, with ellipsis, it would become Approval was not given, nor (was) Ju's art displayed. Do not write: Approval was not given, Ju's art displayed.

The sentence is in the passive voice.

The verb display in the sentence is indeed used transitively. If it were written in the active voice, it would have been:

(We/They/Someone) gave approval, and displayed Ju's art.

In this active voice version, Ju's art is the object of the verb displayed. (And We/They/Someone is the subject of the sentence.)

IMPORTANT: With displayed being used in the passive voice in the example, Ju's art is the subject of the verb (was) displayed, not the object.

This may sound confusing: how would an object in the active voice version become the subject of an equivalent sentence in the passive voice?

Subject and object are syntactical terms, and it's important for learners to be able to identify them in sentences. Otherwise, subject-verb agreement could be a potential problem. And an object in a sentence in the active voice would become the subject of an equivalent sentence in the passive voice.

Alternately, we can maintain the relationship (thematic relation) between the two nouns in both active and passive voices by using another set of terms: agent and patient. The agent causes an action or an event upon the patient. For example,

The gallery displayed Ju's art. -- The gallery is the subject (agent), Ju's art the object (patient).
Ju's art was displayed. (by the gallery) -- Ju's art is the subject (patient), the gallery the agent.

For more details on agent and patient, this Wikipedia page could be a good starting point:

Damkerng T.

Posted 2015-09-07T08:04:30.570

Reputation: 27 649


Here is the original paragraph:

Seeing such promise in his student,Yang arranged an exhibit of Ju's work at the National Museum of History.Because exhibits were only of established artists, the museum director demanded that three local sculptors and one preofessional [sic] Japanese sculptor approve Ju's work.Approval was given,and Ju's art displayed.

I think it misses 'was' (also, some spelling/grammar mistakes are noticed).

Approval was given, and Ju's art was displayed

That's what the closest I can think of.

Added note: display is generally a transitive verb but not always.

Maulik V

Posted 2015-09-07T08:04:30.570

Reputation: 66 188