Verbs can be classified into transitive and intransitive. A transitive verb needs an object while the intransitive does not. Many verbs can be transitive or intransitive depending on how they are used in a sentence.

Transitive verb
A transitive verb must have an object. Without an object, it does not convey a complete meaning.
  • Example: He bought.
The question inevitably arises: What did he buy? No one in the world knows the answer to this question as there is no direct object to tell us what he bought. The meaning becomes clear when an object is added:
  • He bought a cake.
Now every one of us knows what he bought.
The subject he performs the action bought, which is the transitive verb acting upon the object of the sentence cake.
 

A transitive verb must have a direct object to complete a sentence. If it doesn’t have a direct object, it makes the sentence meaningless. The following examples show the verbs in bold.

Examples:

  • I have to catch the earliest train tomorrow. (Direct object train)
  • We agreed to settle the lawsuit out of court. (Direct object lawsuit)
  • I pushed the button and nothing happened. (Direct object button)
  • They picked him as the captain. (Direct object him)
  • I wrote the number somewhere. (Direct object number)

 

Intransitive verb
An intransitive verb is enough to complete a sentence without a transitive verb. The reason is, unlike a transitive verb, it does not need an object to make the sentence’s meaning clear. 

 

Examples:

  • She smiles.
  • The dog is barking.
  • Their plane has already taken off.
  • The people next door are arguing loudly.
  • She has been sneezing since this morning.

 

Transitive and Intransitive verbs
Many verbs can be both transitive and intransitive. When a transitive verb is used intransitively, it changes its meaning. In the following examples, the verbs and direct objects are in bold.

 

Examples:

  • Transitive verb: It is better we eat something before we go.
  • Intransitive verb: Our parents like to eat out on Sundays..
  • Transitive verb: She poked the attacker in the left eye..
  • Intransitive verb: He poked at a snake with a stick..
  • Transitive verb: They played hide-and-seek yesterday.
  • Intransitive verb: The children played in the park..
  • Transitive verb: He is too fat to touch his toes.
  • Intransitive verb: The sign says, "Please don't touch.".
  • Transitive verb: When she heard what happened, she cried tears of joy.
  • Intransitive verb: Someone is crying loudly..

 

Transitive verb and indirect object
A transitive verb may take an indirect object. An indirect object is something or someone to whom or for whom the action is carried out. In these two examples, the verbs and indirect objects are in bold.
  • He bought her a cake. / He bought a cake for her.
  • She is reading grandma the news. / She is reading the news to grandma.
In the first example, the indirect object is her as it is for her that the cake (direct object) was bought.
In the second example, the indirect object is grandma as it is to her that the news (direct object) was read.
The indirect object usually comes before the direct object as in the two examples.
 

Transitive and intransitive verbs in same sentence.

Examples:

  • The villagers caught a boar yesterday, but it escaped this morning.
    (The verb caught is transitive as it has the direct object boar. The other verb escaped is intransitive since it is not followed by an object.)
  • I asked her to call me but she didn't call.
  • She punched my face but I didn't punch back.
  • When the dog vomited blood, I too wanted to vomit.

 

Intransitive verb followed by adverb or prepositional phrase
Since an intransitive verb cannot take an object, it can never be followed by a noun. But it can be followed by an adverb or prepositional phrase, or both.

 

Examples:

  • The family lives upstairs.
    (Intransitive verb lives followed by adverb upstairs.)
  • The stranger bumped into me.
    (Intransitive verb bumped followed by prepositional phrase into me.)
  • The beach slopes down to the sea.
    (Intransitive verb slopes followed by adverb down and prepositional phrase to the sea.)