Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs: Explanation & Exercises

Learning the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs can help students of English improve their knowledge of English grammar, which improves fluency.

Transitive Verbs


A transitive verb is a verb that can have an object. For example, the verb kick.

Sandra kicked the ball.

(subject)+(verb)+(object).

The object of the verb kick in the above sentence is the ball. Transitive verbs like kick are common in English. They describe actions that can be done to something. For example,

  • She bought the cake.
  • She caught the ball.
  • He has found a problem.
  • He will take a train.
  • He is reading a letter.

Hint: Think of ‘transitive’ as a verb that can be ‘transferred’ an object. If it can take an object, it can be used as a transitive verb.

Intransitive Verbs


An intransitive verb is a verb that cannot have an object. For example, the verb sleep.

People sleep.

(subject)+(verb).

In this example, there is only a subject (the person doing the action) and a verb. There is no object. Here are some other examples of intransitive verbs:

  • cry
  • die
  • fall
  • smile
  • walk

Identifying Intransitive and Transitive Verbs

To know if the verb in a sentence is transitive, you need to see if the verb has an object in the sentence. To do that, ask What the subject did with the verb. For example:

  • She opened the door.  > She opened what? = the door. ‘The door’ is an object, so we know the verb is used transitively.
  • The manager will close the store early. > The manager will close what? = the store.  This means the verb is transitive.
  • The children sat. > The children sat what? = ?? This question doesn’t make sense. You cannot sit something because sit is only an intransitive verb.

Note that not everything that comes after a verb is an object. Compare these two sentences:

  • The children sat. (Intransitive — the verb sat has no object)
  • The children sat in chairs. (Intransitive — in is a preposition, so in chairs is a prepositional phrase that describes where the children sat; it does not tell you what the children sat.)
  • The children sat happily in chairs with their friends. (Intransitive, again. Here, happily is an adverb describing how they sat, and in chairs and with their friends are phrases started with prepositions.)

Verbs that Can Be Both Transitive and Intransitive

Some verbs have both a transitive and intransitive form.

  • The dog eats. (Intransitive — the verb has no object)
  • The dog eats food. (Transitive — the object ‘food’ means the verb is used transitively).
  • Roger cleans often. (Intransitive — there is no object. Often is an adverb describing how often something happens. It does not tell you what Roger cleans).
  • Roger cleans his bathroom often. (Transitive — Roger cleans what? His bathroom. That is the object of the verb.)

This is true of many verbs (there are too many to list). If you do not know if a verb is transitive or intransitive (or both), you can look it up in the dictionary.

She is running a marathon. (Transitive)

The woman is running. (Intransitive). She is running a marathon. (transitive)

Do you understand how to identify transitive and intransitive verbs? Try these exercises!

Exercise: Determine If the Sentence Is Transitive or Intransitive

1. The train arrived.

Answer and Explanation
Intransitive. The verb arrive cannot have an object.

2. The passengers rode the train.

Answer and Explanation
Transitive. The passengers rode what? The train. This is the object.

3. The baby drinks from his bottle.

Answer and Explanation
Intransitive. What did the baby drink? We don’t know because there is no object. The phrase “from his bottle” is a prepositional phrase, not an object.

4. The baby drinks milk from his bottle.

Answer and Explanation
Transitive. What did the baby drink? Milk.

5. The bird is flying away.

Answer and Explanation
Intransitive. Away is an adverb (it is a direction), not what the bird flies.

6. The woman ordered a sandwich with mustard and mayonnaise.

Answer and Explanation
Transitive. What did the woman order? A sandwich.

7. The sun warms our planet throughout the year.

Answer and Explanation
Transitive. What does the sun warm? Our planet.

8. Some birds in Canada fly south in the winter.
Answer and Explanation

Intransitive. South is a direction (an adverb) that tells you where the birds flew; it is not the object of the verb. In the winter is a prepositional phrase telling you when.

Is the Verb ‘to be’ Transitive or Intransitive?

The BE verb is not transitive or intransitive. It is called a linking verb. Instead of following the subject + verb + object format, sentences with linking verbs follow this format:

The man is a doctor.

[subject[ + [verb] + [complement]

Other linking verbs include appear, become, feel, grow, look, smell, sound, taste. These verbs, when used as linking verbs, are neither transitive nor intransitive.

Commonly Confused Intransitive Verbs

These verbs are commonly confused by students (even advanced students):

transitive verbintransitive verb
laylie
raiserise

To practice the difference between these two verbs, see the below related pages:

Questions? Find a mistake? Leave a comment below.

– Matthew Barton / Creator of www.englishcurrent.com

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One comment on “Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs: Explanation & Exercises

  1. julia (Posted on 7-7-2019 at 12:47) Reply

    Thank you so much for helping me.

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