This preregistered study tested three theoretical proposals for how children form productive yet restricted linguistic generalizations, avoiding errors such as *The clown laughed the man , across three age groups (5–6 years, 9–10 years, adults) and five languages (English, Japanese, Hindi, Hebrew and K'iche'). Participants rated, on a five-point scale, correct and ungrammatical sentences describing events of causation (e.g., *Someone laughed the man; Someone made the man laugh ; Someone broke the truck ; ?Someone made the truck break ). The verb-semantics hypothesis predicts that, for all languages, by-verb differences in acceptability ratings will be predicted by the extent to which the causing and caused event (e.g., amusing and laughing) merge conceptually into a single event (as rated by separate groups of adult participants). The entrenchment and preemption hypotheses predict, for all languages, that by-verb differences in acceptability ratings will be predicted by, respectively, the verb's relative overall frequency, and frequency in nearly-synonymous constructions (e.g., X made Y laugh for *Someone laughed the man ). Analysis using mixed effects models revealed that entrenchment/preemption effects (which could not be distinguished due to collinearity) were observed for all age groups and all languages except K'iche', which suffered from a thin corpus and showed only preemption sporadically. All languages showed effects of event-merge semantics, except K'iche' which showed only effects of supplementary semantic predictors. We end by presenting a computational model which successfully simulates this pattern of results in a single discriminative-learning mechanism, achieving by-verb correlations of around r = 0.75 with human judgment data.