logoGrammar Error beta
All the grammar quiz and more!

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

All English verbs are divided into three big groups of transitive, intransitive and linking verbs. The belonging to one of these groups influences the choice of the object the verb may be followed by: direct, indirect, indirect without a preposition, prepositional object or the complex object. Another reason to know about "transitivity/intransitivity" of a verb is to be able to use the verb in the passive voice. In addition, some verbs such as get, grow, keep, look, and alike, can be also link verbs that will strongly influence the meaning of a sentence.

Edited: 2/17/2019

Transitive Verb

A transitive verb is a verb that requires one or more objects. This contrasts with intransitive verbs, which do not have objects. Transitivity is traditionally thought a global property of a clause, by which activity is transferred from an agent to a patient.

A verb that is followed by an object is called a transitive verb. Transitive verbs can be classified by the number of objects they require. Verbs that require only two arguments, a subject and a single direct object, are monotransitive. Verbs that require two objects, a direct object and an indirect object, are ditransitive, or less commonly bitransitive. An example of a ditransitive verb in English is the verb to give, which may feature a subject, an indirect object, and a direct object: John gave Mary the book. Verbs that take three objects are tritransitive. In English a tritransitive verb features an indirect object, a direct object, and a prepositional phrase – as in I'll trade you this bicycle for your binoculars – or else a clause that behaves like an argument – as in I bet you a pound that he has forgotten. Not all descriptive grammars recognize tritransitive verbs.

In contrast to transitive verbs, some verbs take zero objects. Verbs that do not require an object are called intransitive verbs. An example in English is the verb to swim.

Verbs that can be used in an intransitive or transitive way are called ambitransitive verbs. In English, an example is the verb to eat; the sentences You eat (with an intransitive form) and You eat apples (a transitive form that has apples as the object) are both grammatical.

The concept of valency is related to transitivity. The valency of a verb considers all the arguments the verb takes, including both the subject and all of the objects. In contrast to valency, the transitivity of a verb only considers the objects. Subcategorization is roughly synonymous with valency, though they come from different theoretical traditions.

Traditionally, transitivity patterns are thought of as lexical information of the verb, but recent research in construction grammar and related theories has argued that transitivity is a grammatical rather than a lexical property, since the same verb very often appears with different transitivity in different contexts.


  • Does your dog bite? (no object)
  • The cat bit him. (one object)
  • Can you bite me off a piece of banana? (two objects)
  • The vase broke. (no object; anticausative construction)
  • She broke the toothpick. (one object)
  • Can you break me some toothpicks for my model castle? (two objects)
  • Stop me before I buy again. (no object; antipassive construction)
  • The man bought a ring. (one object)
  • The man bought his wife a ring. (two objects)

In grammatical construction theories, transitivity is considered as an element of grammatical construction, rather than an inherent part of verbs.


The following sentences exemplify transitive verbs in English.

  • We're gonna need a bigger boat.
  • You need to fill in this form.
  • Hang on, I'll have it ready in a minute.
  • The professor took off his spectacles.

Intransitive Verb

In grammar, an intransitive verb does not allow a direct object. This is distinct from a transitive verb, which takes one or more objects. The verb property is called transitivity. Intransitive verbs can often be identified as those which can't be followed by a "who" or a "what".


In the following sentences, verbs are used without a direct object:

  • "Rivers flow."
  • "I sneezed."
  • "My dog ran."
  • "Water evaporates when it's hot."
  • "You've grown since I last saw you!"
  • "I wonder how old I will be when I die."

The following sentences contain transitive verbs (they take one or more objects):

  • "We watched a movie last night."
  • "She's eating popcorn."
  • "When I said that, my sister smacked me."
  • "Santa gave me a present."
  • "He continuously clicked his pen and it was incredibly annoying to me."

Some verbs allow for objects but do not always require one. Such a verb may be used as intransitive in one sentence, and as transitive in another:

"It is raining.""It is raining cats and dogs."
"When he finished the race, he barfed.""When he finished the race, he barfed up his lunch."
"Water evaporates when it's hot.""Heat evaporates water."
"He's been singing all day.""He's been singing barbershop all day."
"You've grown since I last saw you.""You've grown a beard since I last saw you!"

In general, intransitive verbs often involve weather terms, involuntary processes, states, bodily functions, motion, action processes, cognition, sensation, and emotion.

Valency-changing Operations

The valency of a verb is related to transitivity. Where the transitivity of a verb only considers the objects, the valency of a verb considers all the arguments the verb takes, including both the subject of the verb and all of the objects.

It is possible to change the transitivity of a verb, and in so doing to change the valency.

In languages that have a passive voice, a transitive verb in the active voice becomes intransitive in the passive voice.

In this sentence, hugged is a transitive verb taking Mary as its object. The sentence can be made passive with the direct object Mary as the grammatical subject as follows:

This shift is called promotion of the object.

The passive-voice construction cannot take an object. The passivized sentence could be continued with the agent:

It cannot be continued with a direct object to be taken by was hugged. For example, it would be ungrammatical to write Mary was hugged her daughter in order to show that Mary and her daughter shared a hug.

Intransitive verbs can be made passive in some languages. In English, intransitive verbs can be used in the passive voice when a prepositional phrase is included, as in, The houses were lived in by millions of people.

In the context of a nominative–accusative language like English, this promotion is nonsensical because intransitive verbs don't take objects, they take subjects, and so the subject of a transitive verb (I in I hug him) is also the subject of the intransitive passive construction (I was hugged by him).

License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Source: wikipedia (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)


Verbs constitute one of the main word classes in the English language. Like other types of words in the language, English verbs are not heavily inflected. Most combinations of tense, aspect, mood and voice are expressed periphrastically, using constructions with auxiliary verbs.

Generally, the only inflected forms of an English verb are a third person singular present tense form in -s, a past tense, a past participle (which may be the same as the past tense), and a form ending in -ing that serves as a present participle and gerund. Most verbs inflect in a simple regular fashion, although there are about 200 irregular verbs; the irregularity in nearly all cases concerns the past tense and past participle forms. The copula verb be has a larger number of different inflected forms, and is highly irregular.

A typical English verb may have five different inflected forms:

  • The base form or plain form (go, write, climb), which has several uses—as an infinitive, imperative, present subjunctive, and present indicative except in the third-person singular
  • The -s form (goes, writes, climbs), used as the present indicative in the third-person singular
  • the past tense or preterite (went, wrote, climbed)
  • The past participle (gone, written, climbed) – this is identical to the past tense in the case of regular verbs and some irregular ones (here the first two verbs are irregular and the third regular)
  • The -ing form (going, writing, climbing), used as a present participle, gerund, and (de)verbal nounThe verb be has a larger number of different forms (am, is, are, was, were, etc.), while the modal verbs have a more limited number of forms.

Some forms of be and of certain other auxiliary verbs also have contracted forms ( 's, 're, 've, etc.).

In English, verbs frequently appear in combinations containing one or more auxiliary verbs and a nonfinite form (infinitive or participle) of a main (lexical) verb.


The first verb in such a combination is the finite verb, the remainder are nonfinite (although constructions in which even the leading verb is nonfinite are also possible – see below). Such combinations are sometimes called compound verbs; more technically they may be called verb catenae, since they are not generally strict grammatical constituents of the clause.

  • The dog was barking very loudly.
  • My hat has been cleaned.
  • Jane does not really like us.

As the last example shows, the words making up these combinations do not always remain consecutive.

Tenses, Aspects and Moods

The means English uses for expressing the three categories of tense (time reference), aspect and mood are somewhat conflated. English has only limited means for expressing these categories through verb conjugation, and tends mostly to express them periphrastically, using the verb combinations mentioned in the previous section. The tenses, aspects and moods that may be identified in English are described below (although the terminology used differs significantly between authors). Note that in common usage, particular tense–aspect–mood combinations such as "present progressive" and "conditional perfect" are often referred to simply as "tenses".

License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Source: wikipedia (1, 2, 3, 4)

Active and Passive Voice

The active voice (where the verb's subject is understood to denote the doer, or agent), of the denoted action) is the unmarked voice in English.

To form the passive voice (where the subject denotes the undergoer, or patient), of the action), a periphrastic construction is used.

In the canonical form of the passive, a form of the auxiliary verb be (or sometimes get) is used, together with the past participle of the lexical verb. Passive voice can be expressed in combination together with tenses, aspects and moods, by means of appropriate marking of the auxiliary (which for this purpose is not a stative verb, i.e. it has progressive forms available).

For example:

  • This room is tidied regularly. (simple present passive)
  • It had already been accepted. (past perfect passive)
  • Dinner is being cooked right now. (present progressive passive)

The passive forms of certain of the combinations involving the progressive aspect are quite rare; these include the present perfect progressive (it has been being written), past perfect progressive (it had been being written), future progressive (it will be being written), future perfect progressive (it will have been being written), conditional progressive (it would be being written) and conditional perfect progressive (it would have been being written). Because of the awkwardness of these constructions, they may be paraphrased, for example using the expression in the process of (it has been in the process of being written, it will be in the process of being written, and similar).

The uses of these various passive forms are analogous to those of the corresponding tense–aspect–mood combinations in the active voice.

License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Source: wikipedia (1)


Traditional grammar defines the object in a sentence as the entity that is acted upon by the subject. There is thus a primary distinction between subjects and objects that is understood in terms of the action expressed by the verb, e.g. Tom studies grammar—Tom is the subject and grammar is the object. Traditional theories of sentence structure divide the simple sentence into a subject and a predicate, whereby the object is taken to be part of the predicate. Many modern theories of grammar (e.g. dependency grammars), in contrast, take the object to be a verb argument like the subject, the difference between them being mainly just their prominence; the subject is ranked higher than the object and is thus more prominent.

The main verb in a clause determines whether and what objects are present. Transitive verbs require the presence of an object, whereas intransitive verbs block the appearance of an object. The term complement overlaps in meaning with object: all objects are complements, but not vice versa. The objects that verbs do and do not take is explored in detail in valency theory.


Various object types are commonly acknowledged: direct, indirect, and prepositional. These object types are illustrated in the following table:

Direct objectEntity acted uponSam fed the dogs.
Indirect objectEntity indirectly affected by the actionShe sent him a present.
Prepositional objectObject introduced by a prepositionShe is waiting for Lucy.

The descriptions "entity acted upon" and "entity indirectly affected by the action" are merely loose orientation points. Beyond basic examples such as those provided in the table, these orientation points are not much helpful when the goal is to determine whether a given object should be viewed as direct or indirect. One rule of thumb for English, however, is that an indirect object is not present unless a direct object is also present. A prepositional object is one that is introduced by a