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What’s the Difference Between “Transitive” and “Intransitive” Verbs?

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Verbs can be transitive, intransitive, or both. We’ll go over what this means and provide examples.

Identifying transitive and intransitive verbs | Transitive Intransitive
Do you know the difference between these two types of verbs?
Quick Summary on Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs
  • The difference between transitive and intransitive verbs is that transitive verbs require a direct object to express a complete thought, whereas intransitive verbs do not.
  • A direct object is a noun or pronoun that is acted on by the verb and answers the questions “whom?” or “what?”
  • In the following sentence, conveyed is an example of a transitive verb and a message is the direct object.
    • She conveyed a message.
  • Rise is an example of an intransitive verb.
    • The sun rises every morning and sets every night.
  • Some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive.
    • She opened the door. (Transitive)
      The door opened abruptly. (Intransitive)

Verbs are a complex and vital part of speech. There are several categories of verbs, but we’ll be going over two in particular: transitive and intransitive verbs.

Identifying transitive and intransitive verbs | What are transitive and intransitive verbs?
The verb “open” can be transitive and intransitive.

Verbs and Direct Objects—What You Need To Know

Before diving into the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, there are two things you need to be familiar with—verbs and direct objects.

Verbs are words that express an action, occurrence, or state of being. In the following examples, the verbs are underlined:

I asked her for a book.
He became furious.
She is excited.

Direct objects are a type of sentence complement. They are nouns or pronouns that receive the action of a verb and answer the questions “whom?” or “what?”. In the following examples, the direct objects are underlined:

Timmy threw the ball over the fence.
Daisy ate the banana.
The brothers hugged their mom tightly.

Now that we’ve reviewed what verbs and direct objects are, let’s get into transitive and intransitive verbs.

Understanding the Difference Between Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Verbs can be transitive, intransitive, or both.

What Are Transitive Verbs?

Transitive verbs are verbs that require a direct object. Without a direct object, the sentence would leave readers confused and with questions. Consider the following example:

The monkey bit the zookeeper.

In this sentence, the transitive verb “bit,” requires the direct object “zookeeper” to express a complete thought.

The monkey bit.

In this example, without the direct object, the reader is left asking “the monkey bit whom or what?”

Transitive Verbs—Examples

Here are a few more examples of transitive verbs and the direct objects that receive the action:

Maria peeled the potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner.
I wanted to empower the students.
Let’s carry these bags across the bridge.
Our group discussed strategies that can help improve performance.
Luis brought the book I asked for.

What Are Intransitive Verbs?

Intransitive verbs don’t require a direct object to express a complete thought. Take a look at the following example:

The team persevered.

This sentence is complete, even without a direct object after it.

A sentence that contains an intransitive verb with a direct object immediately after it wouldn’t make sense. There must be a preposition or prepositional phrase between the intransitive verb and noun phrase.

Terry voted.

Terry voted in the elections.

Terry voted the elections.

The first example is complete because voted is an intransitive verb. Adding a noun phrase after vote is only possible with the use of the preposition in. The last example, which has a direct object right after the intransitive verb, is grammatically incorrect.

Intransitive Verbs—Examples

Here are some more examples of intransitive verbs:

The crowd applauded.
Lester laughed.
The kids jumped.
It was so cute when the baby sneezed.

Verbs That Are Transitive and Intransitive

There are some words that can only function as a transitive verb (address and borrow) and others that are only intransitive (arrive and die). However, many verbs can function as both transitive and intransitive (sometimes known as ambitransitive).

I read magazines.
I read. (Intransitive)

It’s worth noting that different forms of a verb and the context of a sentence can change its transitivity. For example, while bit is transitive, bite can be both transitive and intransitive, depending on the sentence.

The bird bit the man who put his finger in the cage.
Does the bird bite?
Will the bird bite me?

Identifying Transitive and Intransitive Verbs and Using Them Correctly

Identifying a transitive and intransitive verb is easy. All you have to do is ask yourself if there’s a direct object (noun or pronoun that answers “whom?” or “what?”) right after it. If there is, then it’s transitive, and if there isn’t, it’s intransitive.

When it comes to English grammar, things are usually not as clear-cut as transitive and intransitive verbs. That’s why it’s a good idea to have LanguageTool as your writing assistant. This intelligent text editor can check for several types of errors, whether it be spelling, grammar, or semantics, and can support more than 20 languages.

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