Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Introduction

First things first! What do transitive and intransitive mean?

These terms relate to verbs in English. In simple terms,

  • Transitive refers to a verb that requires a direct object (DO) to complete its meaning.
  • Intransitive refers to a verb that indicates a complete action without a direct object (DO), like sit or lie, and that in English does not have a passive voice form.  It either does not require a DO or it cannot have a DO.

Student: “That sounds simple enough, Teacher Lee, but what does it really mean to me as a student? Can you give me some examples?”

Examples of Transitive Verbs

Direct objects (DOs) are underlined for clarity.

  1. See – I see him. I see it. I see that boy.
  2. Say – I said it. I said that I feel ill today.
  3. Beat – I beat him! You should beat the bushes to scare away the snakes.

Examples of Intransitive Verbs

  1. Sit – Please sit. I sat down. (“down” is an adverb, not a DO)
  2. Go – Please go. You wish to go where? (“where” is an adverb, not a DO)
  3. Talk – He can’t talk. We talked for a long time. (“for” is a preposition, not a DO)
  4. Run – That boy can run fast! (“fast” is an adverb, not a DO)
  5. Fly – A bird can fly. The airplane is flying to India. (“to” is a preposition, not a DO)

Most Verbs Can Be Transitive or Intransitive

  1. Fly (intransitive) – Superman can fly. (no DO)
  2. Fly (transitive) – Superman can fly me to the other side of the world.
    (He can carry me while flying. “Me” is DO.)
  3. See (intransitive) – I see. He is blind; he can’t see. (no DO)
  4. See (transitive) – I see the boy. I see what you mean.
  5. Say (intransitive) – He said so. (“so” is an adverb, not DO)
  6. Say (transitive) – He said no. He said that he didn’t want to go.

How Do I Know If a Verb is Transitive or Intransitive?

The dictionary will tell you! Let’s take “discuss” as an example. I’ll use the Free Dictionary for this example. Here is an excerpt. I have highlighted some key points:

  1. The verb can be transitive(v.tr.) or intransitive (v.intr.)
  2. Definitions and sample phrases are included.
  3. Some other forms of the verb are shown (discussed, discussing, discusses).

Now let’s take “fall” as an example. I’ll use the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for this example. Here is an excerpt. I have highlighted some key points:

  1. This verb is intransitive only. There is no “transitive verb” section.
  2. Definitions and sample phrases are included.
  3. Some other forms of the verb are shown (fell/fallen/falling).

Passive Voice

Transitive verbs can have passive voice. Intransitive verbs cannot.

  1. Discuss:  We discussed the topic. The topic was discussed.
    (DO in active voice becomes the subject in passive voice.)
    .
  2. Fall:  I fell. (We cannot say “I am fallen” or “I was fallen”.)
    (Note that “fell” already applies to the subject.  Passive voice is not possible or necessary for this verb.)

Self-Assessment (What Did I Learn?)

Instructions: In the sentences below:
(a) Underline the direct object (DO) if there is one; otherwise, state “No DO”.
(b) State if the verb is transitive (tr) or intransitive (intr).
(c) If a sentence is grammatically WRONG, then indicate WRONG.

Hints: Remember that a DO may be a noun, pronoun, or a noun clause. Don’t confuse an indirect object (IO) with a direct object (DO). Remember that only a transitive verb can have passive voice. Good luck!

  1. I saw him yesterday.
  2. She said that we should not worry about her.
  3. The building fell due to an earthquake.
  4. Tell me.
  5. Say me.
  6. Talk to me.
  7. Write me a letter.
  8. This letter was written yesterday.
  9. What did you say?
  10. It is raining cats and dogs.
  11. I was talked.

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