Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive and intransitive verbs differ in the following ways:


Transitive:

  • Express an action
  • Must have a direct object
  • May also have an indirect object



Intransitive:

  • Express an action or provide a link
  • Will not have a direct object
  • Will not have an indirect object

Transitive Verbs


Transitive verbs are also called object verbs because they are verbs that have to take a direct object and may also have an indirect object. 

These are some common transitive action verbs:

  • bring
  • send
  • buy
  • get
  • lend
  • make
  • offer
  • take
  • catch
  • give

direct object is something that is directly affected by the action of the main verb. It is a verb that needs an object because with out it, it will not make sense, or not be a complete thought:


No Direct Object:

My father bought (action verb

  • This does not have a direct object so does not make sense

Direct Object:

My father bought a bike (direct object)

  • This now has a direct object and makes sense

Transitive verbs may also have an indirect object. An indirect object is a person or thing that benefits in some way from the action of the main verb. 

For a sentence to have an indirect object, there must also be a direct object, so they will appear together:


Direct & Indirect Object:

My father bought me (indirect objecta bike

  • This now has a direct and indirect object

Here are some more examples of transitive verbs. There may also be modifiers in the sentences, such as adjectives. Note how the verbs will not make sense if you take away the direct objects.  

Transitive Verbs with Direct Objects:

  • The vicar gave a great sermon
  • Shall I make sandwiches?
  • The Prime Minister forced all her MPs to vote
  • The caller left a message 
  • The exercise took my energy away
  • He brings snacks to work

Transitive Verbs with Direct and Indirect Objects:

  • The vicar gave the congregation a great sermon
  • Shall I make the children sandwiches?
  • The caller left me a message 
  • I sold her my car
  • Jonathan sent her a letter
  • She lent her friend some money

Intransitive Verbs


Like transitive verbs, intransitive verbs can be action verbs. However, they do not take a direct (or indirect) object. 

But a key difference between transitive and intransitive verbs is that the latter can also be what are called linking verbs. Rather than expressing action, they link the sentence subject to the predicate (the part of a sentence that tells us what the subject does or is).

These verbs are commonly forms of the verb 'to be', but also verbs often related to perceptions.

Here are some common examples of intransitive action and linking verbs. 

Intransitive Action Verbs:

  • arrive
  • go
  • work
  • laugh
  • walk
  • die
  • come
  • sit
  • rise
  • swim

Intransitive Linking Verbs:

  • be
  • appear
  • become
  • feel
  • get
  • look
  • seem
  • smell
  • sound
  • taste

Unlike transitive verbs, in some cases, a complete sentence can be made with nothing after the verb. But it could also be followed by adjectives, adverbs, the infinitive, or phrases. 

Intransitive Verb Alone:

  • He swam
  • Their grandmother died
  • We laughed
  • The train arrived


Intransitive Verb + Adverb, Phrase etc:

  • The employees worked very hard (adjective phrase)
  • The customer is friendly (adjective)
  • She looked out of the window (prepositional phrase)
  • They laughed loudly (adverb)

But they can never be followed by a noun because this would then be acting as the object of the sentence.

There may be a noun in the sentence (e.g. 'window' in example 3), but this is not the receiver of the verb 'to look'. It is just completing the prepositional phrase. 

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs


There are verbs that can be both transitive and intransitive, depending on the context.

You will see, though, from the examples below that those which are acting as transitive verbs require an object (in red), while intransitive verbs do not, as they may have nothing after them or adverbs, phrase etc (in green):


Examples of Transitive and Intransitive Verbs:

  • I played football yesterday (transitive)
  • He played in the rain this morning (intransitive)

  • My father grows herbs at his house (transitive)
  • His herbs are growing quickly (intransitive)

  • The police stopped the car for speeding (transitive)
  • The car stopped suddenly (intransitive)

  • I've changed my car from a Ford to a Fiesta (transitive)
  • My views on marriage have changed significantly over the years (intransitive)

  • I closed my eyes (transitive)
  • The shop closed (intransitive)

Tip for Identifying Transitive and Intransitive Verbs


Another difference between transitive and intransitive verbs is that while transitive verbs can be used in both the active and passive voice, intransitive verbs can only be active.  

So if you are unsure if you are dealing with a transitive or intransitive verb, you can see if the verb can be turned into the passive voice.

An active voice verb is made passive by making the object of the sentence into the subject and turning the verb form to the past participle:


Active to Passive Voice:

The policeman arrested the young lad (active)

The young lad was arrested by the policeman (passive)

Intransitive verbs have no object to move, so they of course cannot be made passive. These, for instance, clearly cannot be made passive:

  • She looked out of the window (prepositional phrase)
  • They laughed loudly (adverb)

'Out of the window was looked she' or 'loudly was laughed they' do not make sense. 

However, you can see that active transitive verbs can be made passive:


Active Transitive Verbs to Passive:

  • The Prime Minister forced all her MPs to vote
  • All the MPs were forced to vote by the Prime Minister

  • The caller left a message 
  • A message was left by the caller 

  • The exercise took my energy away
  • My energy was taken away by the exercise

So remember, when you are looking at transitive or intransitive verbs and the passive voice, intransitive verbs cannot be made passive because they do not have an object.