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Transitive vs Intransitive Verbs and Examples + Definition

Most people understand that verbs describe specific actions and states of being in the English language. But did you know there are two different groups of action words? These two groups, transitive and intransitive verbs, describe how people and things take certain actions. However, both groups function differently from one another in a sentence. Would you like to learn the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs? Let’s explore how a transitive verb and intransitive verb work, so that you can identify each type and use them properly in your sentences.

What’s the Difference Between Transitive and Intransitive Verbs?

To understand the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, it’s important to look at each type individually. Let’s start with a transitive verb definition.

What is a Transitive verb?: A Transitive Verb Definition

Transitive verbs follow two rules. First, a transitive verb is always an action word. You cannot have a transitive verb that describes a state of being because there’s no action taking place. Similarly, a linking word does not follow the transitive verb definition. Therefore, verbs such as to be, to feel, and to grow and all their forms cannot be transitive verbs.

Second, a transitive verb always needs to relate to the object in a sentence. To understand what that means, let’s break down the fundamentals of sentence structure.

All sentences contain a subject, which is a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun that’s doing or being something. You’ll also find a verb, which is the action, linking, or state of being word. Sometimes, there’s even an object. That’s the noun, noun phrase, or pronoun that the verb affects.

When there’s an object in a sentence containing an action word, you’re dealing with a transitive verb. If there is no object in a sentence containing an action word, yet the sentence still makes sense, then the action word is an intransitive verb. That’s the main difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. To clarify the difference, here are a few examples showing how transitive and intransitive verbs function differently.

What is a Transitive Verb?: A Few Transitive Verb Examples

One way to define a transitive verb is to determine whether a sentence would make sense if there was no object present. For more help with this, click to read more.

Here are some examples:

  • Fred kicked the football.

This is a complete thought that make sense. But, what happens when you remove the object? Then you have:

  • Fred kicked.

Without the object, the sentence no longer makes sense. What is it that Fred kicked? Because the example leaves out an object; without it you can’t tell.

Some other words in this category include all forms of buy, leave, make, pass, and sell.

  • Jennifer sold her old bike to Justin.

In this sentence you understand what it is that Jennifer did and who received the action. However, if the sentence was just “Jennifer sold” then the sentence wouldn’t contain enough information.

The two examples above show the two types of transitive verbs. “Fred kicked the football” is an example of a word which requires only one object. The object in this case is the football, and alone this provides enough information to understand what’s happening.

“Jennifer sold her old bike to Justin” is an example of an action word that requires more than one object. In this case, the objects include her old bike and Justin. Without both objects, you wouldn’t know what Jennifer sold, nor whom she sold it to.

So, when someone asks you “what is a transitive verb” you can explain that they are action words which require an object to form a complete sentence. This is different from how an intransitive verb works.

Before you read an intransitive verb definition, why not quickly learn how to make citations using MLA format and APA format?

What is an Intransitive Verb?: An Intransitive Verb Definition

An intransitive verb, just like its counterpart, can be an action word. However, it’s different because an object that receives the action isn’t necessary. Instead, the noun completes an action by itself. Here are some examples:

  • Ted danced.

In this sentence, Ted is the subject and danced is the action word. There is not and cannot be a direct object that follows the sentence. Yet, the sentence can proceed a preposition phrase or an adverb. For instance:

  • Ted danced high school cafeteria.

This sentence is incorrect. Subject followed by a transitive action word and a direct object doesn’t make sense. However, if the action word comes before a preposition, then you can make a complete sentence.

  • Ted danced in his high school cafeteria.

You can even add an adverb to the sentence, to add more description.

  • The horse galloped.

This standard sentence follows all the rules. But you can also add more detail, by writing:

  • The horse galloped wildly.

Thus, if the subject acts by itself, then you know you’re using an intransitive verb.

Intransitive Verb Examples

There are many intransitive verbs in the English language. These include escape, fall, jump, listen, sigh, read, and swim. Here are a few more examples:

  • She waves at her cousin.
  • The mouse squeaks with delight.
  • Maxine walks around the park nonstop.

All the examples above are words that work only as intransitive verbs. Yet, some words work as both transitive and intransitive verbs. Before looking at these words, why not check out this helpful plagiarism checker? Also need citations? Citaiton Machine Plus can help you cite sources in both MLA and APA format, plus many more styles.

Words That are Both a Transitive Verb and Intransitive Verb

You call words that are both transitive and intransitive verbs by their proper name: ergative.

Whether these words need an object or not depend on the sentence structure. Here are some examples of ergative words:

  • Please open the door for Thomas.
  • The grocery store opens late on Thursdays.
  • We set a date on our calendar.
  • The sun set.
  • Move your car so Holly can park behind us.
  • The chicken suddenly moved.

Other examples of ergative words include start, write, live, do, and close. Can you think of different ways to use each example in a different way? When you’re done, see this link for more information about action words.