Grammar Taking Charge of Transitive and Intransitive Verbs |
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Taking Charge of Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Verbs are the drivers of language. All other parts of speech rely on them for momentum. Without effective verb usage, they lose the extra thrust that they’re made to provide and become mere golf-cart motor components.

Mastering verbs includes understanding the difference between transitive and intransitive action words.

transitive verb is one that requires a direct object to finish its meaning.
Example: He (subject) plays (transitive verb) guitar (direct object).

An intransitive verb is one that does not need a direct object to complete its meaning.
Example: She (subject) laughs and smiles (compound intransitive verb).

Linking verbs—those that join a sentence subject to its complement—are likewise intransitive. Common linking verbs are become, seem, appear, feel, look, taste, smell, sound, and be. Subject complements for linking verbs will be adjectives, nouns, pronouns, possessive pronouns, or adverbs of time or place.

They (subject) seem (linking verb) joyful (adjective complement).
She (subject) is becoming (linking verb) a superb musician (noun complement).
The winner (subject) is (linking verb) you (pronoun complement).

Some verbs can function as either transitive or intransitive depending on their context.

When I need some light exercise, often I walk (intransitive).
When I need some light exercise, often I walk (transitive) the dog (direct object).

Other verbs that can be either transitive or intransitive are run, provide, enter, read, and call.

A Closer Look at Sentence Objects

Becoming proficient with transitive and intransitive verbs further includes knowing how they function with direct and indirect objects.

With transitive verbs, an indirect object appears between the verb and the direct object. You can spot a word or phrase as an indirect object by determining if it can follow the direct object with a prepositional phrase that begins with to, for, and occasionally of:

Sentence: The teacher gave the students (indirect object) homework (direct object).
Proof: The teacher gave homework (direct object) to the students (receiving prepositional phrase).

Transitive verbs that often allow indirect objects are give, make, tell, show, bring, send, sell, and offer.

Intransitive structures can at times be more tricky, often because they appear transitive but aren’t because of understood omission in context.

The inmate escaped the prison.
They left the party.

In the first example, the inmate didn’t escape the prison as a direct action to the object. He escaped from the prison, an intransitive context. The word from is omitted because it’s understood.

In the second sentence, they didn’t leave the party in terms of setting something down in a transitive context (e.g., left a dessert). They left from the party, an intransitive context. The word from is once again omitted because it’s understood.

With these principles in mind, we recognize how direct and indirect objects work in transitive and intransitive structures to add color and clarity.

1) Please bring (transitive verb) me (indirect object with omitted to) the book (direct object). Including me conveys the book is destined for me instead of another person.

2) Could you grab (transitive verb with auxiliary couldme (indirect object with omitted foranother beer (direct object)? Once again we use an indirect object to communicate destination.

3) My feet are really aching (present progressive intransitive verb) me (reflexive pronoun operating as an indirect object with omitted to). While many would argue this is more colloquial speech than proper grammar, our deconstruction reveals the parts’ identities.

4) The following sentence applies both transitive and intransitive structures: The inmate escaped (intransitive verb) the prison (prepositional object with omitted from) and left (transitive verb) the warden (indirect object) a note (direct object).

By understanding how verbs are classified and related to the rest of the sentence, you’ll do more than write grammatically. You’ll also ensure that together your words will move as high-performance vehicles instead of as putt-putt wagons that meander through long and winding courses.


Pop Quiz

Identify whether the verbs in the following sentences are transitive or intransitive and whether objects (if present) are direct or indirect. Answers are at the bottom of the newsletter.
1) For my weekly exercise, I run (transitive / intransitive) at the local high school track.
2) She provided (transitive / intransitive) me (direct / indirect) the notes (direct / indirect) I needed to study.
3) He feeds (transitive / intransitive) his cat (direct / indirect) twice a day.
4) The governor seems (transitive / intransitive) uncertain about passing the legislation.


Pop Quiz Answers

1) For my weekly exercise, I run (transitive / intransitive) at the local high school track.
2) She provided (transitive / intransitive) me (direct / indirect) the notes (direct / indirect) I needed to study.
3) He feeds (transitive / intransitive) his cat ( direct / indirect) twice a day.
4) The governor seems (transitive / intransitive) uncertain about passing the legislation.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

11 responses to “Taking Charge of Transitive and Intransitive Verbs”

  1. Stephanie Campbell says:

    While “walk” can be transitive if you are walking the dog, I used to have fun with this as a former Spanish teacher, because “caminar” (“to walk” in Spanish) can only be intransitive. I had to make the students understand that in Spanish, you can no more “walk” the dog than you can “ski” the dog.

  2. CW says:

    Lincoln’s Second Inaugural has always puzzled me: “To him who has borne the burden.”

    It seems that Lincoln’s locution could have worked either way.

    With a comma after “him,” we would have a separate phrase.

    Without a comma, shouldn’t it be “To he who has borne the burden?” as in Horace Rumpole’s (lexeme) description of Hilda: “She who must be obeyed.”

    • says:

      Lincoln’s exact words were, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
      Him is an object pronoun in Lincoln’s sentence. In the Rumpole example, she is a subject pronoun.

  3. Kathy M. says:

    Can you please explain the difference between “substantial” and “substantive”?

  4. priyank singh says:


  5. Hamdi says:

    He fixed the fan easily. He (will-is going to)be an electrician in the future.

  6. Izzy says:

    Would “He re-entered the room” be considered transitive or intransitive? Dictionary says re-enter can be both, but I don’t understand how to differentiate here.

    • says:

      As the post states, “A transitive verb is one that requires a direct object to finish its meaning.” Example:
      He will re-enter the room.

      An intransitive verb is one that does not need a direct object to complete its meaning. Example:
      We will be able to leave and re-enter if we get a hand stamp.

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