Grammar What Is a Transitive Verb? |
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What Is a Transitive Verb?

Most people understand what a sentence verb is: a word that expresses an action performed by a subject. English verbs are further categorized into transitive and intransitive verbs. In this discussion, we’ll review what a transitive verb is and how it functions in a sentence.

A transitive verb is one that expresses an action that takes an object to complete its meaning. In contrast, an intransitive verb confines the action to the subject and does not transfer it to an object.

A transitive verb can be thought of as a cart that is “transferring” an action from the subject to an object. The majority of verbs are transitive.

Ken dropped (transitive verb) his keys (direct object) in the well.
Diana rode (transitive verb) her scooter (direct object) to practice.
Paul shoveled (transitive verb) dirt (direct object) into the ditch.

What Is a Transitive Verb: Applying the Passive-Voice Test

One common measure for checking if a verb is transitive is testing whether the sentence subject can be made the object and receive the action in the passive voice. Intransitive verbs cannot be written in a passive construction.

Let’s apply the test to the verbs we used in the three sentences above:

The keys were dropped by Ken in the well.
The scooter was ridden by Diana to practice.
The dirt was shoveled by Paul into the ditch.

By this measure, all three sentence verbs are transitive in their original (active) form.

What Is a Transitive Verb: More About Objects

In addition to acting on direct objects, transitive verbs can involve an indirect object, which appears between the verb and the direct object. You can usually spot the indirect object by determining if it could follow the direct object with a prepositional phrase that often begins with to or for.

Jacques gave (transitive verb) him (indirect object) the sealed letter (direct object).
Jacques gave (transitive verb) the sealed letter (direct object) to him (object of phrase).

Kristoff threw (transitive verb) them (indirect object) the party of the year (direct object).
Kristoff threw (transitive verb) the party of the year (direct object) for them (object of phrase).

Note that some verbs can double as both transitive and intransitive according to their context.

Viktor walks (transitive verb) his dog (direct object) each morning.
Viktor walks (intransitive verb) in the morning (adverbial prepositional phrase).

Sara is playing (transitive verb) the flute (direct object).
Sara is playing (intransitive verb) outside (adverb).

In some cases, a transitive verb may also require an object complement to complete its meaning. Consider the following sentences.

The panel considered (transitive verb) the case (direct object).
The panel considered (transitive verb) the case (direct object) closed (object complement, adjective).

Without the object complement (closed), the information given can meaning something else entirely.

What Is a Transitive Verb: Main Patterns

In summary, a transitive verb is one that transfers an action to something. You will most often see transitive verbs in one of three patterns.

1. Subject + transitive verb + direct object
2. Subject + transitive verb + indirect object + direct object
3. Subject + transitive verb + direct object + object complement

Subject Transitive Verb Indirect Object Direct Object Object Complement
1. Karen bakes cookies.
2. Billy handed him the phone.
3. The people elected her president. (noun)

Related Topics

What Is a Linking Verb?
Taking Charge of Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

 

Pop Quiz

Let’s put your knowledge into practice. Identify any transitive verbs that appear in the following sentences.

1. Cliff left early yesterday, and someone saw him ordering lunch at a roadside diner.

2. Tricia looks beautiful in that dress. She wears it well.

3. That salesperson wants a ten percent deposit.

4. Wanda will become upset if we are late to the recital.

5. The company president named Janice the new vice president of operations.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. Cliff left early yesterday, and someone saw him ordering lunch at a roadside diner.

2. Tricia looks beautiful in that dress. She wears it well.

3. That salesperson wants a ten percent deposit.

4. Wanda will become upset if we are late to the recital. No transitive verbs

5. The company president named Janice the new vice president of operations.

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