Transitive and Intransitive Verbs: An Easy Learning Guide

In English grammar, verbs can be classified into different categories based on their usage and function. One such classification is between transitive and intransitive verbs. Understanding the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs is crucial for constructing grammatically correct sentences and conveying meaning effectively.

What are Transitive and Intransitive Verbs?

Verbs, one of the most important parts of speech, express actions, states, or events that happen in a sentence. However, not all verbs are the same. Depending on how they relate to the objects in a sentence, verbs can be categorized as transitive or intransitive.  

  • Transitive Verbs: These verbs rely on a direct object to convey their complete meaning, as they transfer the action to someone or something. In the sentence “They built a sturdy bridge,” “built” is a transitive verb, and “a sturdy bridge” serves as the direct object.
  • Intransitive Verbs: In contrast, intransitive verbs do not need a direct object to complete their meaning. They stand alone, expressing the action without transferring it to an object. In the sentence “He sleeps peacefully,” “sleeps” is an intransitive verb.

Transitive and Intransitive Verb Examples

Let’s see how transitive and intransitive verbs function in sentences. Each example sentence will have an explanation to help you grasp the concept.

  • He wrote a letter.
    • Explanation: The transitive verb “wrote” is completed by the direct object “a letter.” Without specifying what was written, the meaning of the verb is incomplete.
  • He runs every morning.
    • Explanation: The intransitive verb “runs” describes an action without the need for a direct object. The sentence is complete by itself, conveying the idea that he engages in the activity of running.
  • She read a captivating novel.
    • Explanation: In this sentence, the transitive verb “read” requires a direct object, which is “a captivating novel.” The action of reading is directed towards the novel, making the sentence complete.
  • Birds sing melodiously.
    • Explanation: The intransitive verb “sing” is complete on its own. There is no need for a direct object, and the sentence conveys that birds engage in the action of singing without specifying a particular song or recipient.
  • The cat slept peacefully.
    • Explanation: The intransitive verb “slept” does not require a direct object. The action is self-contained, and the sentence is complete without specifying what the cat slept on or with.
  • He painted a vibrant mural.
    • Explanation: The transitive verb “painted” is fulfilled by the direct object “a vibrant mural.” Without specifying what was painted, the meaning of the verb is incomplete.

How to Identify Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Identifying transitive and intransitive verbs can be simplified by understanding their characteristics. We know that a transitive verb needs a direct object to complete its meaning, while an intransitive verb does not. To identify transitive verbs, ask the questions “What?” or “Whom?” after the verb. If there is a clear answer, such as in the sentence “He reads a book,” the verb “reads” is transitive because it answers the question “reads what?” with the direct object “a book.”

On the other hand, intransitive verbs do not need a direct object to convey their meaning. When asking “What?” or “Whom?” after a verb, if there is no meaningful answer, it is likely an intransitive verb. For example, in the sentence “She sleeps peacefully,” the verb “sleeps” is intransitive, and there is no direct object because the action of sleeping is complete with just the subject. Understanding this distinction is essential in constructing grammatically correct sentences and conveying the intended message.

Verbs that are both Transitive and Intransitive

While many verbs neatly fall into either the transitive or intransitive group, some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive, depending on how they are used. The key difference lies in whether or not the verb is accompanied by a direct object. Here are some examples:

  1. To eat:
  • Transitive: She eats an apple. (The direct object is “an apple.”)
  • Intransitive: He eats his lunch. (There is no direct object.)
  1. To run:
  • Transitive: She runs a marathon. (The direct object is “a marathon.”)
  • Intransitive: He runs in the park. (There is no direct object.)
  1. To open:
  • Transitive: She opens the door. (The direct object is “the door.”)
  • Intransitive: The door opens slowly. (There is no direct object.)
  1. To close:
  • Transitive: He closes the book. (The direct object is “the book.”)
  • Intransitive: The book closes with a thud. (There is no direct object.)
  1. To break:
  • Transitive: She breaks the vase. (The direct object is “the vase.”)
  • Intransitive: The vase breaks into pieces. (There is no direct object.)

In each of these examples, the meaning of the verb changes slightly depending on whether it is used as a transitive or intransitive verb. By understanding the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, you can use these verbs more effectively and construct grammatically correct sentences.

Passive Voice with Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

While passive voice is a grammatical construction that is often associated with transitive verbs, it is not a common practice to use passive voice with intransitive verbs due to the lack of a direct object. Passive constructions are more straightforward and natural with transitive verbs where there is a clear action being performed on an object.

Transitive Verbs and Passive Voice

When transitive verbs are used in the passive voice, the direct object becomes the subject of the sentence.

Example:

  • Active Voice: The chef prepares the dish.
  • Passive Voice: The dish is prepared by the chef.

In the passive construction, “eats” (transitive verb) becomes “is eaten” to shift the focus from the doer of the action (“She”) to the receiver of the action (“The cake”).

Intransitive Verbs and Passive Voice

In standard usage, sentences with intransitive verbs are not typically transformed into passive voice constructions because there is no direct object to become the subject.

Example:

  • Active Voice: They protested peacefully.

There is no direct object in this sentence for the verb “protested,” making it challenging to construct a passive voice equivalent. Here, the verb “protested” is an intransitive verb, and “peacefully” is an adverb describing how the protest occurred, not functioning as a direct object.

The Role of Phrasal Verbs in Transitivity

Phrasal verbs, formed by combining a main verb with one or more particles (prepositions or adverbs), can significantly influence whether a verb is transitive or intransitive. The behavior of phrasal verbs in this context is a fascinating aspect of English grammar. If the phrasal verb requires a direct object to convey a complete meaning, it is likely transitive. If the phrasal verb stands alone, expressing a complete action or state without requiring a direct object, it is likely intransitive.

Phrasal Verbs as Transitive

Many phrasal verbs function as transitive verbs, requiring a direct object to complete their meaning. The addition of a particle often changes the verb’s original meaning, transforming it into a new expression.

Example:

  • Original Verb: She looked at the painting.
  • Phrasal Verb: She looked up the information.

In the phrasal verb “look up,” the addition of “up” changes the verb’s transitivity, now requiring a direct object (“the information”) to convey a complete thought.

Phrasal Verbs as Intransitive

Conversely, certain phrasal verbs operate intransitively, standing alone without the need for a direct object. These verbs often convey a complete action or state without requiring additional elements.

Example:

  • Original Verb: He turned on the light.
  • Phrasal Verb: The situation turned around.

In the phrasal verb “turn around,” the verb becomes intransitive, describing a change in a situation without the necessity of a direct object.

Difference Between Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Here’s a tabular representation of the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs

AspectTransitive VerbsIntransitive Verbs
DefinitionRequires a direct object for meaning completion.Does not necessitate a direct object for completion.
Example“She ate the apple.”“He sleeps.”
Direct ObjectHas a direct object (e.g., “the apple”).Does not have a direct object.
CompletenessOften incomplete without a direct object.Generally complete on its own.
Action RelationshipAction directed towards a specific object.Action self-contained, not directed at an object.
Passive VoiceCan be used in passive voice construction.Cannot be used in passive voice construction.
How to IdentifyAsk “What?” or “Whom?” after the verb. If there is an answer, it’s likely a transitive verb.Check if the action stands alone without any object. If yes, it’s likely an intransitive verb.

20 Transitive Verb Examples

Transitive Verb Examples
WriteDiscoverExplainConstruct
PrepareCreatePaintBuild
FindMakeReadWatch
CookBuyEatWash
PlantHearHitDrive

Check out the list of 100 Transitive Verbs with example sentences.

20 Intransitive Verb Examples

Intransitive Verb Examples
SleepShineBloomLaugh
SingBlowCryAccelerate
RunTickleCreakPurr
SmellFallStandFly
EruptJumpArriveWander

Check out the list of 100 Intransitive Verbs with example sentences.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs Exercises with Answers

Identify transitive verbs and intransitive verbs in the below sentences.

  1. Sonia bought a new dress for the party.
  2. The cat jumped onto the windowsill.
  3. He sang a beautiful song at the concert.
  4. The children play happily in the park.
  5. I read a fascinating novel last night.
  6. The sun sets behind the mountains.
  7. They built a sandcastle on the beach.
  8. The flowers bloomed in the spring.
  9. The chef prepared a delicious meal for us.
  10. The birds chirped in the early morning.

Answers

  1. Transitive – “Bought” is a transitive verb, and “a new dress” is the direct object.
  2. Intransitive – “Jumped” is an intransitive verb, as it doesn’t require a direct object.
  3. Transitive – “Sang” is a transitive verb, and “a beautiful song” is the direct object.
  4. Intransitive – “Play” is an intransitive verb; it doesn’t require a direct object.
  5. Transitive – “Read” is a transitive verb, and “a fascinating novel” is the direct object.
  6. Intransitive – “Sets” is an intransitive verb, describing an action without a direct object.
  7. Transitive – “Built” is a transitive verb, and “a sandcastle” is the direct object.
  8. Intransitive – “Bloomed” is an intransitive verb, conveying an action without a direct object.
  9. Transitive – “Prepared” is a transitive verb, and “a delicious meal” is the direct object.
  10. Intransitive – “Chirped” is an intransitive verb, expressing an action without a direct object.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Q1: What is a transitive verb?

A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object to complete its meaning in a sentence. In other words, the action of the verb is directed towards a specific object, and the sentence may feel incomplete without that object.

Q2: What is an intransitive verb?

An intransitive verb is a verb that does not require a direct object to complete its meaning. These verbs stand alone in a sentence and express an action or state without the need for a specific object.

Q3: What is a direct object for transitive verbs?

The direct object for transitive verbs is the noun or pronoun that receives the action of the verb. It answers the question “What?” or “Whom?” after the verb. For example, in the sentence “She read a book,” the transitive verb is “read,” and the direct object is “a book.”

Q4: How do you know if a verb is transitive or intransitive?

One way to determine if a verb is transitive or intransitive is to see if it requires a direct object to complete its meaning. If the verb needs an object, it is transitive; if it stands alone without requiring an object, it is intransitive.

Q5: What is the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs?

The main difference lies in whether a verb requires a direct object or not. Transitive verbs need a direct object to convey a complete meaning, while intransitive verbs stand alone and do not require a specific object. For example:
She reads a book every day. (Transitive verb “read” + direct object: a book)
She sleeps for 8 hours every night. (Intransitive verb “sleep” + no direct object)

Leave a Comment