I have been teaching English as a second language since 2006 and I get asked great questions. Questions like: What’s the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs? I love it when I get a chance to do a deeper study of English to better help my students. The difference between transitive and intransitive verbs is not as difficult as it sounds.
He was an easy way to understand the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs that I use with my ESL students. Transitive verbs must happen to something. The verb needs an object. Intransitive verbs just happen. They don’t affect an object in the sentence.
Transitive and intransitive verbs can be confusing even for native speakers. Using these verbs incorrectly can cause sentences to be incomplete which may confuse the person you are speaking with.
Transitive and Intransitive verbs – Definitions
An intransitive verb is simply defined as a verb that does not take a direct object. There’s no word in the sentence that tells who or what received the action. In contrast, a transitive verb does take a direct object.
|A Transitive verb is a verb used with a direct object|
|“Raise your hand if you know the answer.” – your hand is the object of the transitive verb RAISE.|
|An Intransitive verb is a verb used without a direct object|
|“Smoke was rising from the chimney.” – the intransitive verb RISE has no object (*from the chimney* tells us where the smoke is coming from, it is not the object of the verb.)|
A transitive verb must be followed directly by an object. The object is the noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that receives the verb’s action.
- “Raise your hand if you know the answer.”
The transitive verb raise is followed by the noun phrase your hand, which is the object that receives the action.
The sentence wouldn’t make sense without an object following the verb raise.
We don’t say (or write)…
Raise if you know the answer.” X
…this sentence is incomplete. What should we raise?
An intransitive verb will not be followed by a direct object.
- “Smoke was rising from the chimney.”
The intransitive verb rising is followed by the preposition from, it is not followed by a direct object.
A direct object is the noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that receives the verb’s action.SOURCE
Let me explain with some helpful examples. We will look at the transitive verb RAISE and the intransitive verb RISE to show us what is meant by a DIRECT OBJECT.
Transitive and Intransitive verbs examples
- “Universities are raising tuition.”
Raise is a transitive verb. It takes a direct object. In this sentence, the noun tuition is the object. Tuition is what is being raised.
It comes directly after the verb raising. We also know who is raising tuition, universities are raising tuition.
- “The cost of university is rising.”
Rise is an intransitive verb. ‘Rising‘ is not followed by a noun, it does not have a direct object. We don’t know why the cost is rising or who did it.
Raise and Rise are great examples of a transitive and an intransitive verb that are easily confused. If you want to learn more about these verbs I suggest reading my RAISE vs RISE? Confusing English post.
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TRANSITIVE verb examples
“Raise your hand if you know the answer.” – your hand is the object of the transitive verb RAISE.
Here are 4 transitive verbs that need an object.
You can see by their definitions that somebody/something is used with these verbs. The somebody/something is the object.
LOVE – to have very strong feelings of liking and caring for somebody
to like or enjoy something very much
“I love living in Tokyo.”
“Harry loves Sally.”
LOVE – Definition
THROW – to send something from your hand through the air by moving your hand or arm quickly
“Jason can throw a 150 km\hr fastball.”
“Can you throw me a towel?”
THROW – Definition
KICK – to hit somebody/something with your foot
“The boys were kicking a ball around in the yard.”
“Shelley kicked Kirk in the shin.”
KICK – Definition
RESPECT – to have a very good opinion of somebody/something; to admire somebody/something
“I respect politicians that keep their promises.”
“Mindy is very polite, she respects her elders.”
RESPECT – Definition
*Be careful! These verbs can also be nouns…
Hi honey, give me some love! – the verb in this sentence is GIVE.
Nice throw Jason, your pitches are getting faster. – the adjective NICE comes before the noun form of throw.
She gave him a kick on the shin. – The noun kick comes after the article A.
Mindy always shows her elders respect.- the verb in this sentence is SHOWS.
MORE TRANSITIVE verb examples
*Some of these words have multiple definitions. This list contains the transitive definitions that require an object.
have – to own, hold or possess something
- I only have $10 on me.
- My dad has four brothers and three sisters.
take – to carry or move something from one place to another
- I have to take my car to the shop tomorrow. My engine is making a funny sound.
- I made extra muffins so please take some home with you when you leave.
lend – to give something to somebody or allow them to use something that belongs to you, which they have to return to you later
- I’m lending Scott my car tomorrow.
- My brother lent me his sweater. I have to be careful.
borrow – to take and use something that belongs to somebody else, and return it to them at a later time
- Can I borrow your car tomorrow?
- My brother borrowed my sweater last week and he got a big stain on it.
*Do a deep dive into these confusing verbs at my blog post – BORROW vs LEND – Your best guide (25 examples, PDF, Video)
discuss – to talk about something with somebody, especially in order to decide something
- My boss wants to discuss the project with me during lunch.
- Have you discussed the problem with anybody yet?
Be careful of this common mistake!
The verb discuss needs an object, it is not followed by a preposition.
Discuss the project… OK
Discuss about the project…NG
write – to put information in the appropriate places on a form
- The doctor wrote a prescription for painkillers.
- I don’t have any cash on me but I can write you a check.
bring – to come to a place with somebody/something
- Troy brought his new wife to the party.
- Can I borrow some money? I forgot to bring my wallet.
pay – to give somebody money that you owe them
We pay our rent on the 1st of every month.
Everyone has to pay their taxes, even if they don’t want to.
return – to bring, give, put or send something back to somebody/something
- I will stop by the library on my way home to return some books.
- My smartphone had many problems so I returned it to the store. I want my money back.
leave – to go away from a place without taking something/somebody with you
- Please don’t leave your dirty clothes on the floor.
- I left my jacket at the office by mistake.
How to use INTRANSITIVE verbs
Transitive verbs may be followed by a preposition:
- Smoke was rising from the chimney.
Transitive verbs may be followed by an adjective or an adverb:
- My hometown has really changed since I was last there.
Transitive verbs may end the sentence:
- The price of gas is rising.
Or a clause. (A clause is often marked by a comma [,] in the sentence.)
- As the price of gas continues to rise, electric cars are becoming more popular.
INTRANSITIVE verb examples
RISE is one example of a verb that is only intransitive. Here are 5 more common verb examples that only have an INTRANSITIVE form.
These verbs can’t take an object. *Note how many transitive verbs are followed by a preposition.
DIE – to stop existing; to disappear
“The old customs are dying.”
“His secret died with him.” (= he never told anyone)
“The words died on my lips.” (= I stopped speaking)
DIE – Definition
ARRIVE – to get to a place, especially at the end of a journey
arrive in… “She’ll arrive in New York at noon.”
arrive at… “The train arrived at the station 20 minutes late.”
“I was pleased to hear you arrived home safely.”
*The noun home is not the direct object of the sentence. Home is one of 3 places that we travel TO, but don’t use the preposition TO.
to home is incorrect. X
The other 2 locations that don’t use the preposition TO are here and there.
“Can you come here for a second?” – NOT come
“My hometown has changed a lot in the past 20 years. I’m planning to go there next summer, I can’t wait.” – NOT go
ARRIVE – Definition
COMPLAIN – to say that you are annoyed, unhappy, or not satisfied with somebody/something
“Some residents have complained to the police.”
“Shoppers complained about the lack of bathrooms.”
“I’m going to complain to the manager about this.”
COMPLAIN – Definition
LIE – (of a person or an animal) to be or put yourself in a flat position so that you are not standing or sitting
“I’m going to lie down for a minute. I have a headache.”
“The dog was lying beside my bed when I woke up.”
LIE – Definition
Learn the difference between LAY and LIE at my blog post here >> LIE or LAY? All Tenses (Easy to remember tips, PDF, Video)
STAY – to continue to be in a particular place for a period of time without moving away
“It’s too hot today! I just want to stay in bed.”
“This is a fun party, sorry I have to go. I wish I could stay longer.” (Longer is an adverb [comparison form] in this sentence.)
STAY – Definition
MORE INTRANSITIVE verb examples
agree – to approve of something because you think it is morally right
- I don’t agree with the president’s decision.
- There must be some big changes made in a company, I think we can all agree on that.
live – to have your home in a particular place
- I used to live in Canada.
- More people are moving to big cities now and there are fewer people living in rural areas.
listen – to pay attention to somebody/something that you can hear
- I like to listen to classical music while I study.
- Graham is dishonest and you shouldn’t listen to what he says.
look – to turn your eyes in a particular direction
- If you look closely you can see a smiling face in the corner of this picture.
- Look at me!
fall – to drop down from a higher level to a lower level
- Leaves fall from the trees in autumn.
- I fell off my bicycle and cut my knee when I was eight.
appear – to start to be seen
- A big dog suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
- The magician made a rabbit appear from his hat.
rush – to transport or send somebody/something somewhere with great speed
- We rushed to the store to buy the new game.
- Kelly is always rushing around everywhere. She needs to relax.
go – to move or travel from one place to another
- Let’s go to the beach this Saturday.
- It’s getting late I should probably get going.
happen – to take place, especially without being planned
- Changes take time, they don’t happen overnight.
- Hi everyone, what’s happening?
sleep – to rest with your eyes closed and your mind and body not active
- I didn’t sleep well last night.
- Most people need to sleep for at least 7 hours a night.
*Intransitive verbs cannot be used with the Passive Voice. Learn more about the Passive Voice at my easy-to-follow guide.
How to identify Transitive and Intransitive verbs
Many verbs have an intransitive form and a transitive form. Below I will list a few common examples of these verbs and explain how to identify them.
We can tell from the word that follows our verb if it is transitive or intransitive. Transitive verbs will be followed by a noun (direct object). Intransitive verbs will be followed by a preposition, an adverb, or a period or comma to end the sentence or finish the clause.
|If I want to go I will go. No one can stop me.”||“Suddenly the rain stopped.”|
|Stop is followed by the noun “me.” This is the direct object.||Stopped is the end of the sentence, nothing follows it.|
|“Olivia is always starting fights with her coworkers.”||“Let’s go, the movie starts at 9:00.”|
|We know who is starting (Olivia) and what is starting (fights). The word fights is the direct object following the verb.||We don’t know who or what is starting the movie. Remember that a preposition (AT) can follow an intransitive verb but a noun can not.|
|“Heather changed her hair. It looks great!”||“My hometown has really changed since I was last there.”|
|Changed is followed by the noun phrase “her hair.” This is the direct object.||Changed is followed by the adverb since in this sentence, not a direct object.|
Conclusion – Transitive or Intransitive?
We learned from this post that an intransitive verb does not take a direct object, it is not followed by a noun.
A transitive verb will be followed by a direct object telling us who or what is affected by the verb.
Keep studying, you’re doing great! After more English practice and listening to native English speakers, you will naturally understand which verbs are transitive or intransitive. Listening practice will help your grammar.
21-page Transitive and Intransitive verbs PDF Download
Thanks to academia.edu for the very helpful article The Relationship between Transitive and Intransitive Verbs in English Language
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