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Transitive and intransitive verbs
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Both 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.'

Roger Woodham replies:
  Intransitive 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 water receded.

  • My shares have collapsed, so I'm going to have to economise.

  • His whole body was aching and his medical condition was deteriorating.

  • 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 unacceptably.

  • 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 most.

  • "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 object:

  • 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.
    Intransitive or transitive

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 the following:

  • 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 could.

  • 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.

If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

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