Learning the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs can help students of English improve their knowledge of English grammar, which improves fluency.
A transitive verb is a verb that can have an object. For example, the verb kick.
Sandra kicked the ball.
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.
An intransitive verb is a verb that cannot have an object. For example, the verb sleep.
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:
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.
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
2. The passengers rode the train.Answer and Explanation
3. The baby drinks from his bottle.Answer and Explanation
4. The baby drinks milk from his bottle.Answer and Explanation
5. The bird is flying away.Answer and Explanation
6. The woman ordered a sandwich with mustard and mayonnaise.Answer and Explanation
7. The sun warms our planet throughout the year.Answer and Explanation
8. Some birds in Canada fly south in the winter.
Answer and Explanation
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 verb||intransitive verb|
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