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
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
'Karen' is the person doing the action which is 'sleeping'. Therefore, the verb 'sleep' is an intransitive verb.
'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.
'Laughing' is a physical action that is intransitive.
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.
'To the station' is a prepositional phrase and is followed by an intransitive verb.
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' 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.
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.
Find the verb: 'ate'. Ask 'What?' the pizza. So, 'the pizza' is the direct object and 'eat' is a transitive verb.
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.
Here, after the verb 'stop' we have a prepositional phrase and NOT a direct object. Therefore, 'stop' is intransitive.
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:
If 'quit' is intransitive, we can simply use it with a subject.
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.
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.
Here, 'leave' is intransitive and it means 'to go away from a person or a place'.
Here, 'leave' is transitive and it means 'to make something happen or remain as a result'.
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.
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:
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.