Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

A transitive verb is one that is used with an object: a noun, phrase, or pronoun that refers to the person or thing that is affected by the action of the verb.Read more about transitive words.

Explanation 1

A verb can be described as transitive or intransitive based on whether it requires an object to express a complete thought or not. A transitive verb is one that only makes sense if it exerts its action on an object. An intransitive verb will make sense without one. Some verbs may be used both ways.

The word transitive often makes people think of transit, which leads to the mistaken assumption that the terms transitive and intransitive are just fancy ways of describing action and nonaction. But these terms have nothing to do with whether a verb is active or not. A better word to associate when you see transitive is transfer. A transitive verb needs to transfer its action to something or someone—an object. In essence, transitive means “to affect something else.”

How to Identify a Transitive Verb

Transitive verbs are not just verbs that can take an object; they demand objects. Without an object to affect, the sentence that a transitive verb inhabits will not seem complete.

Example: Please bring coffee.

In this sentence, the verb bring is transitive; its object is coffee, the thing that is being brought. Without an object of some kind, this verb cannot function.

Please bring.

Bring what, or who? The question begs itself because the meaning of bring demands it.

Here are some more examples of transitive verbs and their objects.

  • The girls carry water to their village.
  • Juan threw the ball.
  • Could you phone the neighbors?
  • I caught a cold.
  • She loves rainbows.
  • Lila conveyed the message.

Each of the verbs in these sentences have objects that complete the verbs’ actions. If the objects were taken out, the results would be illogical and questions would be raised in the mind of the reader; for example, Lila conveyed. Conveyed what?

How to Identify an Intransitive Verb

An intransitive verb is the opposite of a transitive verb: it does not require an object to act upon.

  • They jumped.
  • The dog ran.
  • She sang.
  • A light was shining.

None of these verbs require an object for the sentence to make sense, and all of them can end a sentence. Some imperative forms of verbs can even make comprehensible one-word sentences.



A number of English verbs can only be intransitive; that is, they will never make sense paired with an object. Two examples of intransitive-only verbs are arrive and die. You can’t arrive something, and you certainly can’t die something; it is impossible for an object to follow these verbs.

Transitive or Intransitive? Some Verbs Can Be Both

Many verbs can be classified as both transitive and intransitive depending on how they are used in a sentence.

  • Urged by the others, she sang.
  • She sang the national anthem at the hockey game.
  • After he cleaned up, he left.
  • He left the gift on the table.

To decide whether the verb is being used transitively or intransitively, all you need to do is determine whether the verb has an object. Does she sing something? Does he leave something? The verb is only transitive when the answer is yes.

When in doubt, look it up. In the dictionary, verbs will be listed as transitive, intransitive, or both right under the pronunciation key, and any possible differences in meaning between the two uses will be given as well.

Phrasal Verbs and Transitivity

Phrasal verbs can also be classified as transitive or intransitive.

  • Cindy has decided to give up sweets while she diets.
  • I hope Cindy doesn’t give up.

Give up is just one of many phrasal verbs that can be transitive or intransitive. Whether give up has an object or not will alter the meaning it conveys. The first sense of give up means “to forgo something,” whereas the second sense means “to stop trying.”

  • If we refuse to learn about transitivity, the Grammar Police will blow up our building.
  • When the Grammar Police confronted her about her verbs, she blew up.

The first sense of to blow up means to explode, whereas the second sense means “to express rage.

”Transitive or intransitive is just one of the many classifications a verb can have. Perhaps you will be inspired to read about more about the fascinating qualities of verbs

Explanation 2

Definition of Transitive Verb

A transitive verb is a type of action verb that links the subject with the object (a person or a thing) of a sentence, which is receiving the action. The word “transitive” is derived from a Latin word trans, which means to “go across.”

It can be difficult to recognize a transitive verb. It has two prominent features:

  1. It acts as an action verb, expressing an activity.
  2. It uses a direct object that receives an action.

For instance, in the sentence, “We lost a daughter but gained a meathead” (“All in the Family” by Norman Lear and Michael Ross), “lost” is a transitive verb, as it has an object “a daughter.” The same is the case of “gained,” which has the object “meathead”.

Everyday Use of Transitive Verb
  • Gucci returned the documents to the administrator.
  • The students are playing
  • The director discussed marketing strategies offered in the advertisement.
  • Mariam gave her brother a mobile phone.
  • Alex sent a letter from Canada.
  • My mother gave me a gift on my birthday.

In these sentences, all the underlined verbs are transitive. Each of them has a direct object, which receives the action they demonstrate.

Examples of Transitive Verb in Literature

Example #1: If Tomorrow Comes (by Sidney Sheldon)

“She picked up the gun. She raised the gun to her temple and squeezed the trigger. Tracy Whitney stepped out of the lobby of her apartment building into a gray…As Tracy approached the bank, she glanced at her watch. Eight-twenty …”

In these lines, Sheldon has used nearly all sentences with transitive verbs as shown underlined. In the first two sentences, “picked up” and “raised” are transitive verbs with the objects “gun.” The same pattern is being followed by the other sentences.

Example #2: Hedda Gabler (by Henrik Ibsen)

[Raises the pistol and points.] Now I’ll shoot you, Judge Brack! Faugh — don’t use that sickening word! [Looks up at him and laughs.] Do you too believe in that legend?

In these lines, the verb “shoot” points to the object “you,” the verb “use” points to the object “sickening word,” and the verb “believe” points to the object “legend.” All these transitive verbs make it clear who is receiving the action.

Example #3: The Old man and the Sea (by Earnest Hemingway)

“They sat on the Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of the old man and he was not angry. They picked up the gear from the boat. The old man carried the mast on his shoulder … They walked up the road together to the old man’s shack and went in through its open door … “He’s taken it,” he said. “Now I’ll let him eat it well. The old man had seen many great fish. The old man unhooked the fish, re-baited the line with another sardine and tossed it over. Then he worked his way slowly back to the bow. He washed his left hand and wiped it on his trousers.”

This passage makes excellent use of transitive verbs, each pointing to direct objects that are the recipients of the action.

Transitive VerbDirect Object
satthe terrace
picked upthe gear
carriedthe mast
walked upthe road
seenmany fish
unhookedthe fish
workedhis way
washedhis left hand
Example #4: Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Bronte)

“This precious vessel was now placed on my knee… I could not eat the tart… I felt an inexpressible relief. I pronounced his name, offering him at the same time my hand: he took it … I devoured my bread and drank my coffee with relish.”

In this example, the transitive verbs are as follows:

Transitive VerbDirect Object
placedmy knee
eatthe tart
pronouncedhis name
devouredmy bread
drankmy coffee

Since a transitive verb is an action verb, it shows that its relevant noun is doing something, acting on something else, which is the object. The basic function of the transitive verb is to make the meaning clear, or to complete the idea that the sentence meant to express, by linking the meaning to its object. In other words, it consummates the full idea that a sentence expresses by linking the subject that is doing the action with the object that is at the receiving end. It also helps the learners to correctly use passive sentences with or without an agent.


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