Verbs are the life soul of a sentence because they convey action and tell you what the subject actually does. 

In grammar, verbs can be transitive or intransitive. This refers to whether or not the verb needs an object on which to perform the action in order to express a complete idea. 

Transitive Verbs: Definition and Examples

A transitive verb is a verb that needs a direct object to complete its thought. In fact, it will only make sense when the action is being done to something. 

One way of understanding it is the word “transfer.” A transitive verb has to transfer the action to an object, either someone or something. In a sense, a transitive verb affects something else. 

So one way of identifying a transitive verb is to check if the sentence makes sense without the direct object. 

For example:

I kicked the ball. 

The verb is kicked, and the direct object of the action is the ball. What object does the act of kicking affect? The ball. If we remove the object, “the ball,” does the sentence make complete sense? 

I kicked

Kicked what, or who? The sentence is incomplete, or at least it doesn’t mean what it was supposed to mean. “I kicked and screamed” can be a complete sentence, but it means something completely different. 

She threw the book. 

The verb is threw, and what is the object of the action? The object is the book. If we remove the object, does the sentence make sense? 

She threw

She threw what? Again, this verb needs an object to complete the idea. 

He served coffee. 

What did he serve? Coffee. The verb served is a transitive verb, because it needs the object to complete the thought. If we remove the object “coffee,” we have: 

He served

This sentence can stand alone, but it means something completely different from the original intent of the sentence.

Intransitive Verbs

Next, let’s define an intransitive verb. An intransitive verb is one that makes sense even without an object receiving the action. Even all by itself, it makes a complete thought. For example: 

  • He sang
  • She jogged
  • The cat purred
  • The thunder roared
  • The baby played.
  • They danced.

In the above examples, the idea is complete even if the verbs don’t have an object.

intransitive verb example they danced image

Transitive Verbs and Their Objects

But what if the sentence goes something like, “He served her.”

Does the verb serve need the object her to be complete? No. The sense of the sentence is that “he served.” This makes “serve” in this sentence an intransitive verb. 

So what role does the word her play? Her is the object that benefits from his act of service. It is an indirect object, and is therefore not a necessary part of the sentence.

Here we need to explain briefly about direct objects and indirect objects. 

The English language has two types of objects: 

  • Direct objects: This is the object directly affected by what the main verb does.
  • Indirect object: This is the thing or person that is affected by what the main verb does to the direct object.

Let’s change the sentence up a bit: 

He served her coffee. 

Which one is the object that the verb is affecting? Coffee. What about her? Again, like the first sentence, her is the indirect object that is affected, indirectly, from the action of serving the direct object “coffee.” 

So for the following sentences: 

  • Lisa baked Miguel a cake. 
  • The father read his son a bedtime story. 
  • Julio gave his girlfriend a ring when he proposed.

In the first sentence, the verb baked is transitive, and its direct object is cake. But Miguel is the person benefitting from the action of baking a cake, making him the indirect object. 

In the second sentence, what did the father read? He read a bedtime story, which is the direct object. He did not “read” his son, that is, the son is not the object that the father applied the actual action of reading. But “his son” is the person that benefited from the action, or the person he read the book to. “His son” is therefore the indirect object. 

In the third sentence, what did Julio give? He gave a ring, which is the direct object. And to whom did he give the ring? His girlfriend. This makes his girlfriend the indirect object. 

writing transitive verbs image
Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay

Why is this important to understand when learning about transitive and intransitive verbs? You need to know how to differentiate the direct and indirect object, because a transitive verb requires a direct object, and not necessarily an indirect object. 

Can a Verb Be Both Transitive and Intransitive? 

Yes! Many verbs can function either as a transitive or intransitive verb, based on the way they are used in the sentence.

For example: 

  • He sings in the bathroom. 
  • He sings the national anthem at the start of every class. 

In the above example, the first sentence uses the verb sings as an intransitive verb. The verb can stand alone and the sentence “He sings” is a complete thought.

In the second sentence, the verb sings functions as a transitive verb, because it’s meant to be used with the object, which is the national anthem. 

Another example: 

  • When the rain stopped, she left
  • She left dinner in the pot for her children to eat with the babysitter. 

In the first sentence, the verb left is a complete thought and can stand alone. Therefore it’s used as an intransitive verb. 

In the second sentence, left is used as a transitive verb because it affects an object. What did she leave? She left dinner, which is the object in the sentence. 

Transitive or Intransitive Phrasal Verbs 

Verb phrases, or phrasal verbs, may also be described as transitive or intransitive. 

For example: 

  • Daniel gave up meats and sweets during his 21-day fast.
  • Despite all the challenges, Daniel didn’t give up

Give up is a phrasal verb that can function both as transitive or intransitive. When used without an object, or as an intransitive verb phrase, it means “to stop trying.” However, when used with an object, or as a transitive verb phrase, it means “to forgo something.” 

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs Quiz

Test your knowledge of transitive and intransitive verbs, or download this free Transitive and Intransitive Verbs Quiz PDF. Write T after the sentence if the verb in bold is a transitive verb, or write IT if the verb is an intransitive verb. For the transitive verbs, write down the object of the verb. 

  1. The kangaroo jumped around the park. 
  2. The sheriff arrested the man for trespassing. 
  3. Did they alert the police about the burglary? 
  4. How did you know my name? 
  5. She slipped on the banana peel. 
  6. The boy admires President Abraham Lincoln greatly.
  7. She wrote a love letter and hid it in her trunk.  
  8. The mailman arrived with a parcel for me. 
  9. The neighbors reported the woman who was beating her children. 
  10. The sun shone brightly. 

Answer Key:  

  1. IT
  2. T – the man 
  3. T – the police
  4. T – my name 
  5. IT
  6. T – President Abraham Lincoln
  7. T – a love letter
  8. IT 
  9. T – her children
  10. IT 

Distinguishing Transitive and Intransitive Verbs 

Did you have the right answers to the quiz? If you had any trouble, review the definitions and examples above, and try to parse the sentences into its parts: first find the verb, then determine what object the verb is directly affecting, and which object, if any, indirectly benefits from the action. 

Knowing how transitive and intransitive verbs work will help you make sure you always write a complete thought in your sentences. 

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