Mutable predicate-argument arrangements

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The use of the verb positioned in this sentence, part of an article quoted in "'Dutch roll'", puzzled some commenters:

The aircraft remained on the ground in Oakland until Jun 6th 2024, then positioned to Everett,WA (USA), ATS facilities, and is still on the ground in Everett 6 days later.

But there are general processes in English morpho-syntax that validate the sentence as published.

To start with, there are various ways to verbify nouns. In particular, it's common to turn a noun denoting a place into a verb meaning "cause something to come to be in/on/at that place" — as in position N. → position V. 

There's also the question of static vs. dynamic placement, which might have suggested "was re-positioned to Everett" rather than "was positioned to Everett" — but a Google search for {"then positioned to the"} demonstrates that the dynamic interpretation of position V. is entirely normal, especially in various technical domains.

Some speculated  that this sentence might have been a typo for "was positioned to Everett" — but there's the causative/inchoative alternation involved in things like

(a) The pilot moved the plane to Gate 37.
(b) The plane moved to Gate 37.

Derivational morphology is quasi-regular, so new applications of these various processes tend to become normalized in particular fields, but then surprise outsiders. Which is what seems to have happened in this case…

Those who are interested in the grammatical issues involved are invited to read through these past posts:

"Diagnosing soup label syntax", 6/29/2006
"Another bit at 'eats like a meal'", 7/1/2006
"Open and closed", 3/28/2008
"The aggrieved passive voice", 3/16/2009
"A peeve for the ages", 1/13/2011
"On not allowing Bin Laden to back-burner", 5/3/2011
"Grilling, staging, and landing", 5/5/2011
"An unexpected verbing", 10/4/2012
"'It eats salty': middle voice on 'Top Chef'", 1/31/2016
"Mid-voice crisis: Beyond active and passive", 8/5/2017
"'Cooperate him'", 5/25/2024



  1. Coby said,

    June 15, 2024 @ 8:38 am

    Many IE languages — specifically Slavic, Romance and Germanic (but not Greek or Celtic, and I don't know about Indo-Iranian) — have reflexive pronouns that usually start with s (z in Dutch) and which are used to convert transitive to intransitive verbs. English is the Germanic exception (along with Frisian, I think), and so it's normal for the same verb to be both transitive and intransitive: 'to move' vs. двигаться, moverse, sich bewegen

  2. Cervantes said,

    June 15, 2024 @ 10:18 am

    Position as a verb is really commonplace, actually. The baseball manager positions his outfielders, for example. Nobody would blink at that. Politicians position themselves in a more abstract sense. Again, perfectly common locution. I think it's just that it's usually encountered in certain contexts, and maybe people hadn't encountered this one before, but even so it doesn't strike me as surprising. I might position my car so I can make a quick getaway after I rob the convenience store. Well, okay, not me, but somebody might.

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 15, 2024 @ 10:40 am

    @Cervantes: this usage is parallel to saying "the car positioned," which seems a bit unexpected. myl gives the minimal pair above of "The pilot moved the plane" versus "The plane moved" That seems normal, but compare "The airline positioned the plane" to "The plane positioned." I think the latter is odder (until you've became habituated to relevant industry usage) because we normally think of "positioning" as involving conscious intent in a way that motion need not require.

  4. David Arthur said,

    June 15, 2024 @ 11:15 am

    'Re-positioned' is a very common term in aviation, so I suppose it isn't that strange that they prefix should eventually be dropped. The important signification is that a re-positioning flight doesn't carry paying passengers – it's just the aeroplane itself that's being transported.

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