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Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive Verbs

A lexical verb that has a direct object is a transitive verb. Some transitive verbs have both a direct object and an indirect object.

  • like dogs.
  • The boys were kicking a bail.
  • They could hear a strange noise.
  • The little girl was wearing a red jersey.
  • Don’t disturb Daddy. He’s reading the newspaper.
  • Why did you hit your little brother?
  • cut my finger when I was slicing the meat.
  • Please put your shoes in the cupboard.
  • I’ve only got $4 and I need $5.50.
  • Can you lend me $1.50?

All transitive verbs are action verbs.

The direct object of a transitive verb is the person or thing that is most directly affected by the action or condition described by the verb. For example, the direct object may describe what the subject of the verb has, or gets, or thinks, or likes, or does something to, or does something with:

  • I like dogs.
  • The boys were kicking a ball.
  • He got $5 from his uncle.
  • She hugged him and kissed him.
  • Foxes eat rabbits and mice and other small animals.
  • What are you holding in your hand?
  • Who did you see?
  • Which cake do you want?

The direct object of a transitive verb may not always be a noun or a noun phrase. It may sometimes be a clause with another verb in it:

  • I hope you will join us.
  • I like paddling in the sea.
  • We were wondering where you were.
  • I’d hate to be poor.

The indirect object of a transitive verb is the person or thing that the direct object is given to, done for, etc:

  • I gave her my book. (= I gave my book to her)
  • He bought the children some sweets. (= He bought some sweets for the children)
  • I’d love to show you my garden. (= I’d love to show my garden to you)
  • Keep me a seat, will you? (= Keep a seat for me, will you?)

Depending on what follows the verb in the sentence, transitive verbs fall into three different classes: monotransitive, ditransitive and complex transitive verbs.

Monotransitive verbs have only one object, a direct object:

  • know the answer.
  • I need a new dictionary.
  • He cut himself.
  • We saw a lovely pair of shoes in the shop window.
  • Some silly boy threw a stone through our window.

Ditransitive verbs have two objects, a direct object and an indirect object:

  • told [verb] him [indirect object] the answer [direct object].
  • I gave her my dictionary.
  • She took her mother a bunch of flowers.
  • Lend me five dollars, will you?
  • He awarded himself a bar of chocolate.

Complex transitive verbs have a direct object and a complement (a word or phrase that says something about the direct object):

  • They’ve painted [verb] their house [direct object] purple [complement]!
  • At the first meeting of the committee, they elected Joe chairman.
  • We find your allegations absolutely ludicrous.
  • I think she is calling you a liar.
  • He calls himself the king of rock-and-roll.

Remember that a complement that follows a linking verb says something about the subject of the verb:

  • George Bush [subject] is [linking verb] the President of the United States [complement].
  • You are wrong.
  • The table was clean.

A complement that follows a complex transitive verb says something about the direct object of the verb:

  • They elected [complex transitive verb] George Bush [direct object] President of the United States [complement].
  • I will prove you wrong.
  • They had washed the table clean.

When the object of a transitive verb is a reflexive pronoun, such as himself, myself or ourselves, the verb is sometimes called a reflexive verb.

  • He warmed himself at the fire.
  • cut myself while shaving this morning.
  • Have you ever asked yourself that question?
  • You two should consider yourselves lucky. You might have hurt yourselves.
  • We ate so much of the cake that we made ourselves ill.

Intransitive Verbs

A lexical verb that has neither a complement nor a direct object is an intransitive verb.

  • We all laughed.
  • She speaks with a strong American accent.
  • Are you going with them or are you staying here?
  • Our guests should be arriving at any moment.
  • The little girl was crying in the corner of the room.
  • She blushed furiously.
  • The tortoises live in the garage.
  • Have you talked to your husband about your worries?
  • The hounds were howling in the kennels.

All intransitive verbs are action verbs.

Verbs can, of course, belong to more than one category. For example, some verbs are both transitive and intransitive, depending on whether or not there is a direct object in the sentence:

  • He opened the door. (transitive)
  • The door opened. (intransitive)
  • He parked his car outside the shop. (transitive)
  • He parked outside the shop. (intransitive)
  • My brother smokes a pipe. (transitive)
  • My brother never smokes in the house. (intransitive)
  • You wash the dishes and I’ll dry them. (transitive)
  • Let’s do the dishes. You wash and I’ll dry. (intransitive)
  • think I can do it. (transitive)
  • Think before you speak. (intransitive)

Similarly, some verbs can be transitive, intransitive and linking verbs:

  • She could smell the smoke when she went into the room. (transitive verb – ‘the smoke’ is the direct object of ‘smell’)
  • That stew smells good. (linking verb – ‘good’ is a complement, describing the stew)
  • Your feet smell! (intransitive verb – there is no object or complement)
  • She was turning the pages of the book without really looking at them. (transitive verb)
  • Leaves turn brown in autumn. (linking verb)
  • She suddenly turned and ran out of the room. (intransitive verb)

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