Transitive and intransitive verbs

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

This is a verb that affects a person or an object. It indicates that something or someone different from the subject has been affected by the action represented in the verb of the sentence.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Intransitive verbs

This is a verb that can indicate an action without the necessity of an object.

In other words, an intransitive verb doesn't affect a person or an object because it doesn't go from a subject to an object, as the transitive verbs do.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Keep in mind that verbs can be transitive or intransitive according to your needs as a speaker and what you aim to communicate.

Let's observe the following examples:

Transitive and Intransitive VerbsTransitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs | The Difference between Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

What are transitive and intransitive verbs?  While the concepts might sound difficult, they are easier to understand when you think about the verbs and whether there is an object receiving the action of the verbs.

Read the two sentences below. What is the difference between the two verbs? At first thought, you may say the definition but forget about the meaning. Instead, concentrate on the grammar.

How do the verbs differ grammatically?

Notice that the first sentence has two words following the verb hit. The second sentence doesn’t have words after the verb sang. These two facts lead us to a discussion on transitive and intransitive verbs.

What are transitive verbs?

Transitive verbs are action verbs that have an object to receive that action. In the first sentence above, the direct object ball received the action of the verb hit. Below are some examples of transitive verbs.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

All of the verbs in the above sentences are transitive because an object is receiving the action of the verb.

But what about the sentence “The bird sang.” Is the verb in that sentence a transitive verb? No, in this case the verb sang is an intransitive verb.

What are intransitive verbs?

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What is a Transitive Verb?

A transitive verb is one whose action must be used in relation to an object, and when using the verb, it only makes sense if the verb is transferring action upon an object. That means the verb doesn’t sound good or work on its own without an object.

Consider the verb to bring: The verb will not make sense if the action of the verb is not acting on something, i.e. you have to bring something or someone.

Simply saying I bring will not make sense on its own, you must bring something, an object or a person or a feeling.

That something or someone – Joe, a book, your brother, a good mood – is the direct object of the sentence, i.e. the thing that the verb is acting upon.

  • I bring (doesn’t make sense without an object).
  • I bring a book for Grandma (makes sense because of the direct object, book).
  • I will bring my brother to the meeting.

Examples of Transitive Verbs

There are lots of examples of transitive verbs. They can be any verb that fulfils the criteria of needing to confer action upon an object. Consider these examples and see how the verb exerts action on an object.

  • I love
  • Please carry the books for me.
  • Can we buy these ones?
  • Johnny kicked the ball.
  • She didn’t take anything from the table.
  • I will send the note for the doctor.

Consider how these verbs need to confer the action upon the object. This makes them transitive verbs:

  • Love – you need to love something or someone for the verb to make sense.
  • Carry – you need to carry something or someone for the verb to make sense.
  • Buy – you need buy something for the verb to make sense.
  • Kick – you need to kick something or someone for the verb to make sense.
  • Take – you need to take something or someone for the verb to make sense.
  • Send – you need to send something or someone for the verb to make sense.

What is a Intransitive Verb?

As you might guess, an intransitive verb is one that does not need to transfer action on an object in order to make sense.
Consider the verb to run. You can run without transferring the action of running on a direct object.

How did you get here so quickly? I ran. (There is no need for a direct object).

Examples of Intransitive Verbs

As with transitive verbs, there are many examples of intransitive verbs. They can be any verb that fulfills the criteria of not needing a direct object to confer action upon:

  • It snowed.
  • We laughed.
  • He cried. He will probably cry again tonight.
  • We didn’t know.
  • They died.
  • When did they arrive?

None of the actions described above require direct objects for the action of the verb to make sense. However, you should be aware that intransitive verbs are often followed by prepositions or adverbs.

  • It snowed
  • We laughed
  • He cried
  • We didn’t know right away.
  • They died on Sunday night.
  • Did they arrive on time?

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Recognizing Transitive Verbs When You See Them

Unfortunately, it can sometimes be tricky to know if a verb is transitive because some verbs aren’t only transitive or intransitive. Consider the verb to eat, and look at these examples:

  • I eat fried eggs for breakfast.
  • I eat quickly at breakfast.

In the first example, the verb eat is a transitive verb because the action has a direct object – the fried eggs. However, the second example shows eat as an intransitive verb. There is no action upon a direct object; quickly is an adverb describing the action of eating.

Other examples of verbs that are both transitive and intransitive include walk, drive, read, and understand.

  • I walked.
  • I walked the dogs.
  • Daniel drives.
  • Daniel drives a large truck.
  • Barbara reads.
  • Barbara reads 10 books a month.
  • understand.
  • I understand you.

So, to recognize a transitive verb, you must understand and be able to identify that it acts on a direct object.

Recognizing Intransitive Verbs When You See Them

As mentioned above, many verbs can be transitive and intransitive, so to recognize the type of verb it is, you must look at other parts of the sentence. Consider the verb to sing, and look at these examples:

  • The birds sang the mating call.
  • The birds sang.
  • The birds sang
  • The birds sang on the trees.
See also:  Modal auxiliary verbs

In the first example, sang (the past tense of sing) is a transitive verb. The birds are conferring the action of singing on a direct object – the mating call.

But sang is an intransitive verb in the other three examples. We know this because the first example requires no direct object for the action, the second example is followed by an adverb and the final example is followed by a preposition.

Therefore, we can recognize an intransitive verb if it makes sense on its own (without a direct object) or is followed by an adverb or preposition.

Useful English: Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Brief description of different types of English verbs is given in Verbs Glossary of Terms in the section Grammar. Brief description of transitive, intransitive and linking verbs is given in Basic Word Order in the section Grammar.

This material describes the use of transitive and intransitive verbs, with examples of typical simple declarative sentences formed with the help of transitive, intransitive and linking verbs. Different types of objects used with transitive and intransitive verbs are also described in this material.

The predicate is the central part of the sentence; the verb is the main part of the predicate. Three types of verbs – transitive verbs, intransitive verbs, linking verbs – determine the structure of the sentence.

All notional verbs (main verbs) are divided into transitive and intransitive.

You can learn a lot about the nature of English verbs and about the structure of English sentences by studying the use of transitive and intransitive verbs.

Transitivity: General information

A transitive verb requires a direct object. The action of the verb is directed toward the direct object: the verb passes its action onto the object; the object receives the action of the verb. The direct object completes the meaning of the transitive verb; without the direct object the meaning and the action of the verb are not fully understandable.

Generally, the direct object stands immediately after the verb. The minimal basic pattern of declarative sentences for transitive verbs is Subject (Noun or Pronoun) + Verb + Direct object. For example:

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

  • A transitive verb is an action word that uses an object as a receiver of the action. The transitive verbs are underlined in the following example sentences:
  • I appreciate your concern.
  • We have to retain indispensable employees.
  • I couldn’t find them.
  • Sally adores children.
  • What are Direct and Indirect Objects?

If the object follows the transitive verb, it is a direct object.

It usually answers the question “what” or “whom”?

The receiver of the direct object is the indirect object. It tells to whom or for whom the action is for.

  1. Example:
  2. Janice gave her sister a dress.
  3. Janice is the subject.
  4. gave is the verb.

What was given? A dress.

A dress is the direct object.

Who received the dress (indirect object)? Her sister.

  • Her sister is the indirect object.
  • A direct object and an indirect object can be used in the same sentence with some transitive verbs.
  • Jane bought him a present.
  • him [indirect object]                        a present [direct object]
  • They gave her a homework.
  • her [indirect object]                       a homework [direct object]
  • The following are some common verbs that can be used with a direct and indirect object:
  • Verb                                               Example
  • Pass                                               She passed him the bowl of soup.
  • Leave                                            Leave me a note so that I’ll know what to do.
  • Cost                                               Her arrogance cost her her friends.
  • Wish                                              They wished us the best of luck.
  • Lend                                              She lent me her winter clothes.
  • Buy                                                She buys her a cup of coffee.
  • Make                                             I made us some breakfast.
  • Sell                                                She sold me her house.
  • Show                                            Alex showed me his new car.
  • Offer                                            They offered her the highest position in the company.
  • Intransitive verbs

It is a verb that does not have a direct object. In the sentence, there is no mention of who or what received the action performed.

  1. Here are some examples of intransitive verbs:
  2. The children are playing.
  3. They are studying in Bristol University.
  4. They smiled sweetly.
  5. We studied overnight.
  6. Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
  7. There are many verbs that can both be transitive and intransitive. Here are some examples:
  8. His mother sang a lullaby. [transitive]
  9. She usually sings alone.  [intransitive]
  10. She left her home at six o’clock this morning. [transitive]
  11. She left at six o’clock. [intransitive]
  12. Here are some common verbs that can both be used as a transitive and intransitive:
  13. Verb           Transitive                                                   Intransitive
See also:  Why are british english and american english different?

change       Her fame totally changed her.               My school has changed a lot.

start            She started the whole fight.                   The party starts at 7 p.m.

run              She runs a hair salon.                               She ran across the hall.

do               She has to do her homework soon.        I am doing just fine.

set              She set a meeting for the bosses.           The sun sets at 6pm.

  • stop           We tried to stop her from making           The music stopped.
  • a big mistake.
  • open       Open the door and let the cool                The store opens at 9am.
  •  wind in.
  • close         Close the door and leave the bags          Restaurants in the city close early.
  • outside.
  • move       Could you move your things to the           The cars were moving slowly.
  • left please?

write        Please write me a letter soon.                   She writes legibly.

wash        Please wash your clothes.                          I usually wash at night.

Grammar Tips: Transitive and Intransitive Verbs | Proofed’s Writing Tips

A verb is a word that denotes an action (e.g., run, jump, kick) or state (e.g., feel, understand, belong). We can also divide these words into transitive verbs and intransitive verbs, which we can define as follows:

  • A transitive verb is one that requires an object to make sense.
  • An intransitive verb does not require an object.

But what exactly is the difference in practice? And how does it affect your writing? Check out our explanation and examples below to find out.

Transitive Verbs

As mentioned above, a transitive verb requires an object to make sense. The “object” in this context is the thing that is being acted upon in a sentence. To use a transitive verb, then, we need to specify what the verb is happening to by giving an object after the verb. For example:

Subject Verb Object
The sisters… …discussed… …their plan.

Here, for instance, we have the transitive verb “discussed.” On one side, we have a subject (i.e., the sisters, who perform the action). On the other side, we have an object (i.e., their plan, which is the thing they’re discussing). And between these three things, we have a grammatical sentence.

But it is only grammatical if we include an object (i.e., something to “discuss”):

The sisters discussed their plan.

The sisters discussed.

This second sentence is wrong because the verb lacks an object. It leaves us asking, “What did they discuss?” But that’s only because “discuss” is a transitive verb, so it will always require an object to make sense.

Intransitive Verbs

Intransitive verbs do not need a direct object. As such, you can form a grammatical sentence with just a subject and an intransitive verb:

Subject Verb
The sisters… …argued.

We know what this means by itself (i.e., the sisters were arguing). The sentence does not need an object that tells us who the sisters were arguing with or what the argument was about. We can provide this information if we want, but we do so with a prepositional phrase:

The sisters argued with their father.

The sisters argued about who was fastest.

With intransitive verbs, then, any extra information follows a preposition (e.g., “with” or “about”). It does not follow directly from the verb. If we tried to do this, the sentence would be ungrammatical:

  • The sisters argued their father.
  • The sisters argued who was fastest.
  • Thus, we cannot use a direct object with an intransitive verb.

Transitive or Intransitive?

  1. Some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive depending on how they’re used. For example, we can use “sang” in both of the following:
  2. I sang “Happy Birthday” at the party.
  3. I sang at the party.

Both sentences here are grammatical. In the first, “sang” is a transitive verb with “Happy Birthday” as its object. But “sang” has no object in the second sentence (i.e., we don’t specify what we were singing).

As such, “sang” can be either transitive or intransitive depending on how we use it. And we can tell whether a verb is being used transitively or intransitively by looking for a direct object.

Finally, most dictionaries will say whether a verb can be used transitively or intransitively, so you can check any term you use in your own writing to make sure it can take an object (or be used without one). And if you need a grammar expert to review your work, we’re always here to help.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs – Grammar

A transitive verb is a verb that requires an object to receive the action. 


Correct: The speaker discussed different marketing strategies in the video.


Incorrect:  The speaker discussed in the video.


The verb “discuss” requires an object (“different marketing strategies”). It is necessary to state what the speaker discussed.

Example Sentences

Some other examples of transitive verbs are “address,” “borrow,” “bring,” “discuss,” “raise,” “offer,” “pay,” “write,” “promise,” and “have.”

The instructor addressed the student’s question. Miriam borrowed the methodology book from her classmate because she forgot her copy. Can you bring your copy of the textbook to our study group meeting? Donovan gave the gift to his sister. The committee members will raise money for the new project.

Direct and Indirect Objects

A transitive verb can take more than one object.

Donovan gave his sister a laptop.

In this sentence, there is an indirect object, “his sister,” and a direct object, “a laptop.” However, there is another way to say this same idea using a prepositional phrase.

Donovan gave

Intransitive Verbs

Verbs can be tricky things, and the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs often confounds even the best grammar students and writers. An intransitive verb is simply defined as a verb that does not take a direct object. That means there's no word in the sentence that tells who or what received the action of the verb.

While there may be a word or phrase following an intransitive verb, such words and phrases typically answer the question “how?”. Intransitive verbs are complete without a direct object, as you will see in the examples below.

Here are some examples of intransitive verbs in simple sentences:

  • She grew up.In the basic sentence above, “she” is the subject, and “grew up” is the intransitive verb. You could add the adverb “quickly” to tell how she grew up and it's still a very simple sentence.
  • It rained.The sentence above is complete. The subject “it” is followed by the intransitive verb “rained.” You could add the adverb “heavily” to describe how it rained.

Intransitive verbs can be followed by a prepositional phrase or an adverb to add to the thought being expressed, but they can never be followed by a noun, which would act as the object of the sentence.

Examples of intransitive verbs followed by prepositions include:

  • She grew up on a ranch.
  • She grew up to be a farmer.“On a ranch” is a prepositional phrase, not a direct object. The word “on” is a preposition that introduces the prepositional phrase. The same can be said of “to be a farmer”, which is another such phrase.
  • It rained across the state.
  • It rained before lunch.

“Across the state” is a prepositional phrase adding to the sentence's meaning by answering the question “where did it rain?”. “Before lunch” is a prepositional phrase telling you when it rained.

Common Intransitive Verbs

Many verbs can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on usage. The sentences “she read a book” and “she read for hours,” for example, use the transitive and intransitive forms of the verb “read.” However, many verbs occur most often in English in an intransitive form, such as:

  • Appear
  • Arrive
  • Breathe
  • Continue
  • Cry
  • Die
  • Happen
  • Occur
  • Seem
  • Smile

All these verbs tend to appear in an intransitive form. In fact, the phrase “appear in an intransitive form” is a perfect example of an intransitive verb followed by a prepositional phrase!

Confusing Intransitive and Transitive Verbs

A transitive verb always takes a direct object. Direct objects are words or phrases that receive the action. The direct object always answers the question “what?” Look at the following examples of sentences with direct objects:

  • I saw the Beatles in concert many years ago.The subject “I” is followed by the verb “saw.” In this case, we can ask “saw what?” and find the answer: the subject saw the Beatles (the direct object). That makes “saw” a transitive verb. For a contrasting example, take “I saw out the window.” I saw what? We don't know. The sentence has no direct object, making “saw” intransitive in this case.
  • We painted the old rocking chair.“We painted” what? We painted the old rocking chair. “Rocking chair” is the direct object, making “painted” a transitive verb. By contrast, consider the sentence “We painted all day.” Painted what? The sentence doesn't say. That makes “painted” intransitive.

When writers confuse transitive and intransitive verbs, their sentences may be incomplete or unclear. Speakers of other languages often have difficulty determining which verbs take an object, and which do not. Sentence diagramming or using graphical devices to show the common sentence patterns in English often help speakers of other languages grasp this important concept.

Mastering Sentence Patterns

The general sentence pattern of subject – verb – object is the foundation of English sentence structure. To write well, one must know that structure, use it, and on occasion break it to add variety and interest to the text. Once student writers learn and master this basic pattern, alterations to the pattern provide the beauty and originality of sophisticated prose.

Resources on Intransitive Verbs

  • Test your knowledge of transitive and intransitive verbs with this free test from Quia.
  • ESL students anticipating the TOEFL can find more information on how these verbs are tested in this video from Magoosh.

The Intransitive Verb

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Recognize an intransitive verb when you see one

An intransitive verb has two characteristics. First, it is an action verb, expressing a doable activity like arrive, go, lie, sneeze, sit, die, etc. Second, unlike a transitive verb, it will not have a direct object receiving the action.

Here are some examples of intransitive verbs:

  • Huffing and puffing, we arrived at the classroom door with only seven seconds to spare.
  • Arrived = intransitive verb.
  • James went to the campus cafe for a steaming bowl of squid eyeball stew.
  • Went = intransitive verb.
  • To escape the midday sun, the cats lie in the shade under our cars.
  • Lie = intransitive verb.
  • Around fresh ground pepper, Sheryl sneezes with violence.
  • Sneezes = intransitive verb.
  • In the evenings, Glenda sits on the front porch to admire her immaculate lawn.
  • Sits = intransitive verb.
  • Flipped on its back, the beetle that Clara soaked with insecticide dies under the refrigerator.
  • Dies = intransitive verb.

Realize that many verbs can be both transitive and intransitive

An action verb with a direct object is transitive while an action verb with no direct object is intransitive. Some verbs, such as arrive, go, lie, sneeze, sit, and die, are always intransitive; it is impossible for a direct object to follow.

Other action verbs, however, can be transitive or intransitive, depending on what follows in the sentence. Compare these examples:

  1. Because of blood sugar problems, Rosa always eats before leaving for school.
  2. Eats = intransitive verb.
  3. If there is no leftover pizza, Rosa usually eats whole-grain cereal.
  4. Eats = transitive verb; cereal = direct object.
  5. During cross-country practice, Damien runs over hills, through fields, across the river, and along the highway.
  6. Runs = intransitive verb.
  7. In the spring, Damien will run his first marathon.
  8. Will run = transitive verb; marathon = direct object.

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