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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.
A transitive verb is one that requires a direct object to
finish its meaning.
(subject) plays (transitive verb) guitar (direct object).
An intransitive verb is one that does not need a direct
object to complete its meaning.
(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
The winner (subject) is (linking verb) you (pronoun complement).
Some verbs can function as either transitive or intransitive depending on
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:
The teacher gave the students (indirect object) homework (direct object).
The teacher gave homework (direct object) to the students (receiving
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
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 could) me (indirect object with omitted for) another 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’
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
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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
4) The governor seems (transitive / intransitive) uncertain about passing
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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.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.