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Grammar: Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive Verbs

A transitive verb is a verb that requires an object to receive the action. 

Example:
 
Correct: The speaker discussed different marketing strategies in the video.
 
Incorrect:  The speaker discussed in the video.
 
The verb discuss requires an object (different marketing strategies). It is necessary to state what the speaker discussed.

Example Sentences

Some other examples of transitive verbs are address, borrow, bring, discuss, raise, offer, pay, write, promise, and have.

The instructor addressed the student’s question.
Miriam borrowed the methodology book from her classmate because she forgot her copy.
Can you bring your copy of the textbook to our study group meeting?
Donovan gave the gift to his sister.
The committee members will raise money for the new project.

Direct and Indirect Objects

A transitive verb can take more than one object.

Donovan gave his sister a laptop.

In this sentence, there is an indirect object, his sister, and a direct object, a laptop. However, there is another way to say this same idea using a prepositional phrase.

Donovan gave a laptop to his sister.

In English, an indirect object may come between a transitive verb and the direct object, like the first example sentence about Donovan, or the indirect object could be in the form of a prepositional phrase, like the second example sentence about Donovan.

An indirect object is only needed if the action is being done to or for somebody; when using a transitive verb, you need to include a direct object, but you may not need to include an indirect object.

Finding the Object

You can figure out the direct object by using this question format: “The subject did what?” or “The subject [verb] what?”

The instructor addressed what?
the student’s question
Miriam borrowed what?
the methodology book
Can you bring what?
your copy of the text book
The speaker discussed what?
different marketing strategies
The committee members will raise what?
money

You can find the indirect object by asking the question “To whom?” or “For whom?”

Donovan gave a laptop to whom?
his sister

Intransitive Verbs

An intransitive verb does not take an object. Using an object immediately after an intransitive verb will create an incorrect sentence.  However, there may be other information after the verb, such as one or more prepositional phrases or an adverb.

Example
 
Correct: The students arrived at the residency in Houston.
 
Incorrect: The students arrived Houston.

The second sentence is incorrect because the verb cannot take an object.

Example Sentences

Some other examples of intransitive verbs are deteriorate, vote, sit, increase, laugh, originate, fluctuate, and trend.

The patient’s health deteriorated quickly.
Ahmad voted in the local election.
May I sit here?
Attendance increased at the weekly study sessions as finals drew near.
Susan laughed.

Notes: An intransitive verb can take more than one prepositional phrase or adverb.

The patient’s health deteriorated quickly during the night.
Ahmad voted for the incumbent in the local election.

Verbs That Are Both Transitive and Intransitive

Verbs That Are Both Transitive and Intransitive

Some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive, depending on the situation.  In some instances, such a verb may require an object, while in others it does not require an object.

Example Sentences

Format reminder: verbobject, propositional phrase, adverb

continue

We will continue the meeting after the break. (transitive)
The meeting continued after the break. (intransitive)

play

Three of the students play the guitar. (transitive)
The students will play outside today. (intransitive)

return

Javier returned the book to the library. (transitive)
The students returned to school after the winter break. (intransitive)

grow

I grow zucchini in my garden. (transitive)
My daughter is growing quickly. (intransitive)

If you are unsure about whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, you can check a dictionary.  Most dictionaries, such as the online version of Merriam Webster, indicate whether a verb, and each definition of the verb, is transitive or intransitive.  Whether a verb is transitive or intransitive may depend on whether the verb has multiple meanings.  Make sure to read through the examples provided in the dictionary, if available, to ensure that you are using the verb correctly.

Writing Tools: Using a Dictionary for Grammatical Accuracy Video

Knowledge Check: Transitive and Intransitive Verbs