Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on LinkedinShare via emailShare via Facebook Messenger

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs—What’s the Difference?

Updated on May 18, 2023Grammar

The word transitive often makes people think of transit, which leads to the mistaken assumption that the terms transitive and intransitive are just fancy ways of describing action and nonaction. But these terms have nothing to do with whether a verb is active or not. A better word to associate with transitive is transfer. A transitive verb needs to transfer its action to something or someone—an object. In essence, transitive means “affecting something else.”

Once you have this concept committed to memory, spotting the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs is quite easy.

Here’s a tip: Want to make sure your writing shines? Grammarly can check your spelling and save you from grammar and punctuation mistakes. It even proofreads your text, so your work is polished wherever you write.

Your writing, at its best
Grammarly helps you communicate confidently

What are transitive and intransitive verbs? 

Transitive and intransitive verbs refer to whether or not the verb uses a direct object.

  • Transitive verbs are verbs that use a direct object.
  • Intransitive verbs are verbs that do not use a direct object.

A verb can be described as transitive or intransitive based on whether or not it requires an object to express a complete thought. A transitive verb is one that makes sense only if it exerts its action on an object. An intransitive verb will make sense without an object. Some verbs can be used both ways.

How to identify a transitive verb

Transitive verbs are not just verbs that can take an object; they demand objects. Without an object to affect, the sentence that a transitive verb inhabits will not seem complete.

Please bring coffee.

In this sentence, the verb bring is transitive; its object is coffee, the thing that is being brought. Without an object of some kind, this verb cannot function.

Please bring.

Bring what, or whom? The question raises itself, because the meaning of bring demands it.

Here are some more examples of transitive verbs and their objects.

The girls carry water to their village.

Juan threw the ball.

Could you phone the neighbors?

I caught a cold.

She loves rainbows.

Lila conveyed the message.

Each of the verbs in these sentences has an object that completes the verb’s actions. If the objects were taken out, the results would be illogical, and questions would be raised in the mind of the reader; for example, Lila conveyed. Conveyed what?

How to identify an intransitive verb

An intransitive verb is the opposite of a transitive verb: It does not require an object to act upon.

They jumped.

The dog ran.

She sang.

A light was shining.

None of these verbs require an object for the sentence to make sense, and all of them can end a sentence. Some imperative forms of verbs can even make comprehensible one-word sentences.



A number of English verbs can be only intransitive; that is, they will never make sense paired with an object. Two examples of intransitive-only verbs are arrive and die. You can’t arrive something, and you certainly can’t die something; it is impossible for an object to follow either of these verbs.

Transitive or intransitive? Some verbs can be both

Many verbs can be classified as either transitive or intransitive depending on how they are used in a sentence.

Urged by the others, she sang.

She sang the national anthem at the hockey game.

After he cleaned up, he left.

He left the gift on the table.

To decide whether the verb is being used transitively or intransitively, all you need to do is determine whether the verb has an object. Does she sing something? Does he leave something? The verb is transitive only when the answer is yes.

When in doubt, look it up. In the dictionary, verbs will be listed as transitive, intransitive, or both, and any differences in meaning between the two uses will be given as well.

Phrasal verbs and transitivity

Phrasal verbs can also be classified as transitive or intransitive.

Cindy has decided to give up red meat to lower her cholesterol.

I hope Cindy doesn’t give up.

Give up is just one of many phrasal verbs that can be transitive or intransitive. Whether give up has an object or not will alter the meaning it conveys. The first sense of give up means to forgo something, while the second sense means to stop trying.

Our plane will take off in twenty minutes.

I always take off my shoes on a long flight.

The first sense of take off means to leave the ground, while the second sense means to remove something.

Transitivity versus intransitivity is just one of the many ways a verb can be classified. Perhaps you will be inspired to read more about the fascinating qualities of verbs.

Your writing, at its best.
Works on all your favorite websites
iPhone and iPad KeyboardAndroid KeyboardChrome BrowserSafari BrowserFirefox BrowserEdge BrowserWindows OSMicrosoft Office
Related Articles