Zbyszek from Poland and Iqbal Ahmad from Pakistan write that
they find it difficult to differentiate between transitive
and intransitive verbs: 'Please explain the difference and
give us some examples.'
verbs: subject + verb
If an action concerns only one person or thing, you mention only
the person or thing that carries out the action (the subject)
and the action itself (the verb). Verbs which describe such
actions are called intransitive verbs, e.g.
I waited and waited, but nobody came.
Many intransitive verbs describe physical behaviour or movement:
As the boys arrived, the girls departed.
The wind subsided, the sun came out and the
My shares have collapsed, so I'm going to have
His whole body was aching and his medical condition
She wept bitterly on hearing this news.
Note from the last example that intransitive verbs are often followed
by a prepositional or adverbial phrase which provides more information
about the action - when it occurs, where it occurs, how it occurs,
what direction it takes, etc. Compare the following:
I arrived at the station at a quarter past three.
He travelled south with all possible speed.
Katie was standing in the corner and Justin was lying
on the bed.
It happened yesterday. Vicky had behaved quite
She could not remain in her company, so she turned
and rushed out of the room.
Transitive verbs: subject + verb + object
Transitive verbs involve not only the subject, but also someone
or something else, the object:
She has many friends, but (she) admires Victoria
"Blue suits you," she said. "Fashion
does not interest me in the slightest," I replied.
They haven't raised the standard of living much, but
I still support the government.
Some transitive verbs can have two objects, an indirect object
followed by a direct object:
She brought me my breakfast in bed on a silver tray.
He promised me a job as an insurance salesman.
I lent my younger sister all the money I had.
We can also reverse the order of the objects and put the direct
object first by inserting the preposition to before the indirect
I lent all the money I had to my younger sister.
He taught German to all the girls in the school.
The newspaper has offered a reward of £10,000 to
anyone with any information about the robbery.
Note that although they may be followed by adverbial or prepositional
phrases, transitive verbs cannot be used intransitively.
We cannot say:
The newspaper has offered.
That does not interest.
I still support.
as the meaning is incomplete. Neither can we use intransitive verbs
transitively. We cannot say:
I'll have to economise my spending.
His body was aching the pain.
The sun came out the hills.
Many verbs in English can be used both transitively and intransitively.
The object is often not needed when it is obvious what you are talking
about. But it may need to be added to clarify what is meant. Compare
I asked him to come in, but he did not enter. He
did not enter the room.
When he entered the room, she was reading. She was
reading a book about Buddhism.
He sat down at the computer and started to type. He
started to type an email to his half sister in Australia.
In these examples, the meaning of the verb does not change whether
it is used transitively or intransitively. With certain verbs, the
meaning does change. Compare the following:
She runs a bed-and-breakfast establishment in Broadstairs.
The bull was chasing him so he ran as quickly as he
Do you want any help? ~ No thanks. I can manage perfectly
well on my own.
He had been managing the business for six years before
it made a profit.
I was out when she called.
She called me a cheat and a liar.
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