Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs

May 21, 2021

Before You Start: Direct Objects

In this lesson you’ll be learning about transitive and intransitive verbs. Before we get started, though, you’ll need to learn about direct objects.

Definition: A direct object is a noun or pronoun that directly receives the action of a verb.

Dante threw the ball.

In this sentence, the verb is threw and the direct object is ball. The ball is the thing Dante threw, so we say that the ball is receiving the action of the verb.

The direct object often (but not always) answers the question what? What did Dante throw? He threw the ball.

Sometimes the direct object answers the question whom?

Dante hit me with the ball.

Whom did Dante hit? He hit me.Note: Often the indirect object, not the direct object, answers the question whom? You won’t be learning about indirect objects in this lesson, but if you’d like more information, visit Module 4, Lesson 8.

Transitive Verbs

Definition: All transitive verbs require a direct object. You’ve already seen a couple of examples in the section above, but here are a few more.

The comedian entertained the audience.

Whom did the comedian entertain? The audience. The audience is receiving the action of the verb.

The mail carrier delivered a package yesterday.

What did the mail carrier deliver? A package. The package is receiving the action of the verb.

Without a direct object, a transitive verb’s meaning is incomplete.

Dante threw.

Did Dante throw a ball? A frisbee? A pencil? This sentence leaves you hanging because there is no direct object after the transitive verb threw.

Intransitive Verbs

Definition: Intransitive verbs do not require a direct object. Their meaning is complete without one.

Kelly hikes.

Although this sentence looks short, it’s still complete. The verb hikes doesn’t need a direct object.Hint: Often, an intransitive verb is followed by a word or phrase that looks like a direct object, and this can trick you into thinking the verb is transitive. However, remember that direct objects can only answer the questions what and whom. If what follows the verb answers questions like wherewhen, or how, the verb is intransitive.

Christopher Columbus sailed the Atlantic.

Columbus sailed a ship across the Atlantic. The Atlantic is where he sailed, not what he sailed.

We hiked five miles along the mountain ridge.

We hiked the trail for five miles. Five miles is how long we hiked, not what we hiked.

Some Verbs Can Be Transitive or Intransitive

Certain verbs can be either transitive or intransitive depending on how they’re used.

We ate pizza for dinner.

In this sentence, ate is transitive because it is followed by a direct object. What did we eat for dinner? We ate pizza.

We already ate.

Ate is intransitive in this sentence because it has no direct object. There’s no mention of what we ate.