Transitive and Intransitive Verbs in English Grammar

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs in English Grammar

'She smiled beautifully'. 'She started a rumor'. One of these sentences has an intransitive verb and one has a transitive one. Want to know the difference!

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs in English Grammar

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Based on whether verbs need an object or not to fully create a meaningful sentence, they are categorized into two groups:

  • Transitive verbs
  • Intransitive verbs

Intransitive Verbs

A sentence that has an intransitive verb does not need an object. It is complete with only a subject and a verb.

Karen is sleeping .

'Karen' is the person doing the action which is 'sleeping'. Therefore, the verb 'sleep' is an intransitive verb.

The kid smiled .

'The kid' is the person doing the action of 'smiling'. So, the verb 'smile' is an intransitive one.

Normally, verbs that describe a physical action or some sorts of movements are intransitive verbs.

I was laughing .

'Laughing' is a physical action that is intransitive.

The bus arrived .

Arrived' is an action of movement that is intransitive.

Intransitive verbs are often followed by a prepositional phrase or adverbs that give us more information about the verb. Be careful not to confuse the prepositional phrases or adverbs with a direct object.

The bus arrived to the station .

'To the station' is a prepositional phrase and is followed by an intransitive verb.

Transitive Verbs

A sentence that has a transitive verb has a subject, verb and also a direct object. A direct object is usually a noun or a noun phrase and is the person or thing that the action is being done to them.

Karen bought a pizza .

'Karen' is the person doing the action which is 'buying'. 'A pizza' is the direct object, because the subject does an action to it. So, 'buy' is a transitive verb.

He ate the cake .

Here, 'he' is the subject and the direct object is 'the cake'. So, the verb 'eat' here is a transitive one.

Identifying the Direct Object

If you want to identify the direct object in a sentence, you can follow these steps:
step 1: identify the verb
step 2: ask what (or whom?)
If there is an answer to this question, the verb is transitive and if there is no answer to the question, the verb is intransitive.
For example:

She ate the pizza .

Find the verb: 'ate'. Ask 'What?' the pizza. So, 'the pizza' is the direct object and 'eat' is a transitive verb.

Melanie is laughing .

Identify the verb 'is laughing'. Ask 'laughing what?' Since there is no answer to this question, the verb 'laughing' is intransitive.

Verbs That Are Both Transitive and Intransitive

Some verbs are exclusively transitive or intransitive. But unfortunately, this is not always the case. There are verbs that can be both a transitive and an intransitive verb, depending on whether they take a direct object or not.

The car stopped at the traffic lights .

Here, after the verb 'stop' we have a prepositional phrase and NOT a direct object. Therefore, 'stop' is intransitive.

She stopped the car in front of the school .

Here, after the verb 'stop' we have a direct object. Therefore, 'stop' is transitive.

Some of the verbs that can be both a transitive and an intransitive verb are:

  • open
  • sell
  • throw
  • eat
  • walk
  • pour
  • quit

I am quitting .

If 'quit' is intransitive, we can simply use it with a subject.

I am quitting my job .

Here, 'quit' is transitive, because it has a direct object.

Same Meaning or Different Meaning?

Some verbs that can be both a transitive and intransitive verb, have the same meaning. Their meaning do not change whether they are transitive or intransitive.

I sold my car .

I wanted to buy their car , but they wouldn't sell .

In both these examples, the verb 'sell' has the same meaning, whether it is transitive (1st example) or is intransitive (2nd example).

But there are verbs that can be both a transitive and intransitive verb with different meaning. Their meanings change when they are transitive or intransitive.

When the party was over , he left .

Here, 'leave' is intransitive and it means 'to go away from a person or a place'.

The coffee left a stain on my shirt .

Here, 'leave' is transitive and it means 'to make something happen or remain as a result'.

Ditransitive Verbs

Ditransitive verbs are special kind of transitive verbs. They can take two objects. The second object is called indirect object or secondary object.
The indirect object is the receiver of the direct objects. It shows the person or thing that receives the direct object.

Jake gave Sean a gift .

After identifying the direct object by asking the question 'what?' Jake is giving what? a gift. So 'a gift' is the direct object. The thing or person receiving 'a gift' is 'Sean'. So 'Sean' is the indirect object.

Here are some of the most common ditransitive verbs:

  • pass
  • give
  • read
  • bake
  • tell
  • show
  • buy

Sam is baking Alex a cake .

After identifying the direct object by asking the question 'what?' Sam is baking what? a cake. So 'a cake' is the direct object. The thing or person receiving 'a cake' is 'Alex'. So 'Alex' is the indirect object.

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