Transitive, Intransitive Verbs

Two of the most basic verb classifications are transitive and intransitive. Some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive, depending on the sentence. In English there is no way to tell whether a verb is transitive or intransitive simply by looking at it, so, instead, you need to look at how it is being used in the sentence.

What are Transitive Verbs?

Transitive verbs are actions verbs that require a direct object to complete their meaning. For example,

  • George hit.

In this sentence, “hit” is a transitive verb. This is why simply saying that “George hit” does not make any sense. What did George hit? The sentence needs a direct object.

  • George hit the ball.

Transitive verbs indicate the action that the subject is exerting on the object. In this case George is exerting action i.e. “hitting” the ball. A good way to help in determining whether a verb is transitive or not is to ask the question “What?” or “Whom?”

Below are a few more examples of transitive verbs,

  • The judge sentenced the criminal to five years in jail.
    • The judge (subject) sentenced (verb) the criminal (direct object).
  • The chef diced the carrot.
    • The chef (subject) diced (verb) the carrot (direct object).
  • The construction worker built the house.
    • The construction worker (subject) built (verb) the house (direct object).

What are Intransitive Verbs?

Intransitive verbs are action verbs that do not need an object to complete their meaning. For example,

  • George spoke.

In this sentence, “spoke” is an intransitive verb. Simply saying, “George spoke” makes complete sense. This is why the sentence does not need an object. The idea behind intransitive verbs is that the action being described does not go on to affect an object but, instead, stops with the verb.

Below are few more examples of intransitive verbs,

  • You have aged.
  • As I looked at my friend, I sighed.
  • In order to rescue the citizen, the fireman jumped.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

As we said above, some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive, depending on the sentence in which they are used. For instance, consider the following sentences,

  • Andrew Johnson succeeded Abraham Lincoln (transitive).
  • Abraham Lincoln succeeded in keeping the United States together (intransitive).

In the first sentence, “succeeded” is being used to mean, “to follow and take the place of.” In the second sentence, “succeeded” is being used to mean, “to accomplish a task.” In English, you cannot tell whether the verb will be transitive or intransitive based on its form. Instead, you need to look at how it is functioning within the sentence.

If you have any other questions about transitive or intransitive verbs, feel free to email me or check out my main verb page.

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