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English grammar 101The English language is full of grammar rules, which can be complex and complicated. The first thing we learn about English grammar is usually how to identify different parts of speech, since grammar is defined as the conventions by which we correctly arrange the varied parts of speech into sentences. Verbs are one of the primary parts of speech, with many subcategories, including linking verbs, irregular verbs, auxiliary verbs, finite verbs, and transitive verbs. Understanding the way transitive verbs work will lead to a more complete understanding of English grammar in general, allowing you to speak and write more correctly. Developing these skills is helpful in terms of professional and academic writing, as well as in everyday speech. This is an introduction to transitive verbs, complete with explanations and examples.

Defining Transitive Verbs

Verbs are generally described as action words. Verbs are used to describe occurrences or actions, and can often indicate states of being as well. In a basic sense, a transitive verb can be defined as a verb that modifies the object of a sentence. It is often phrased as a verb “taking” an object. The term transitive verb comes from the Latin verb “trans,” which means to go across. An object, whether direct or indirect, is defined as a part of speech upon which a verb acts. Some more specific definitions identify a transitive verb as a verb that is followed by the direct object of a sentence. An intransitive verb, on the other hand, is a verb that does not take an object. In the sentence, “She sat down,” there is no object, so the verb ‘sat’ is an intransitive verb. In the sentence, ‘She eats pizza,” the verb ‘eat’ is acting upon the object ‘pizza,’ making it a transitive verb.

Transitive verbs can be difficult to identify, since almost any verb can be used as a transitive and intransitive verb, depending on the rest of the sentence in which the verb is found. These verbs are sometimes referred to as ambitransitive verbs. For example, the verb ‘eat’ in “She eats pizza” is transitive, but in “She eats alone,” it is intransitive, since it is not acting on an object. The second sentence contains only the object, she, the verb, eats, and an adjective, alone. Similarly, “He ran the meeting” involves the verb ran acting on the object meeting, so it is transitive. But ‘He ran slowly” involves ran as an intransitive verb, because it is not acting on an object.

Verbs are sometimes described based on their transitivity, or the property of whether or not a verb is transitive, and if so, how many objects they can take. A transitive verb that takes one object is sometimes referred to as monotransitive, while a transitive verb that takes two objects is called ditransitive, and so on.

Examples of Transitive Verbs

The best way to learn how to identify transitive verbs is to practice using example sentences. The goal is first to locate the verb in the sentence, and then try to locate the object of the sentence. If the sentence has no object, direct or indirect, then the verb is certainly intransitive in that sentence. If there is an object, and the verb acts upon that object, the verb is transitive. If there is an object, but the verb does not act upon it, the verb is intransitive. If you ever have trouble identifying these parts of the sentence, you can use process of elimination, by identifying the other parts of speech present in the sentence, such as adjectives, adverbs, articles, or pronouns. Here are some examples:

  1. I know Sarah. – Here, the verb is ‘know.’ The object upon which that verb is acting is Sarah. Therefore, know is a transitive verb in this case.
  2. We lost our dog. – The verb is ‘lost.’ The object upon which that verb is acting is our dog. Lost, then, is a transitive verb.
  3. He punched the burglar. – The verb is ‘punched.’ The object upon which that verb is acting is the burglar, making punched a transitive verb.
  4. I borrowed her dress and her shoes. – The verb is ‘borrowed,’ but it is acting upon both the dress and the shoes. Therefore, borrowed is a transitive verb here, but more specifically it is a ditransitive verb.
  5. He read the book and wrote a report about it. – There are two verbs in this sentence, which are ‘read’ and ‘wrote.’ Each verb acts upon a separate object, making them both transitive verbs. The verb read takes the object ‘the book,’ while the verb wrote takes the object ‘a report.’
  6. He laid the basket down on the ground. – The verb is ‘laid,’ while the object being taken by the verb is the basket. This makes laid a transitive verb in this sentence.
  7. I found the article very interesting to read. – The verb ‘found’ is taking the object ‘the article,’ making this a transitive verb sentence.
  8. We found the keys right where we left them. – Similarly, though found is used in a different sense here, it is still a transitive verb, because it is acting upon the object of the keys.
  9. My friend is lending me some money for the time being. – Lending is a transitive verb here, even though the object it is acting on does not directly follow the verb. The object being taken by the verb ‘lending’ is ‘some money.’
  10. I took the medication and immediately felt better. – There are two verbs in this sentence, but only one is a transitive verb, because the other is not acting on an object. ‘Felt’ is intransitive, but ‘took’ is acting upon ‘the medication,’ making it transitive.

Identifying intransitive verbs is also helpful when studying transitive verb examples. This will teach you to search for the object being acted upon when you are asked to determine if a sentence contains a transitive verb. The following are examples of verbs that are intransitive:

  1. She lay in bed for several hours after her alarm went off. –A sentence that describes laying something down makes lay a transitive verb, but a sentence using the verb lie, often confused with lay, often makes lie an intransitive verb. In this case, ‘lay’ is not acting upon anything, so it is an intransitive verb.
  2. They arrived at the airport with only a few minutes to spare. – The verb ‘arrived’ is not acting on an object, making it an intransitive verb.
  3. He sneezed several times before stopping. – Sneezed does not take an object, so it is intransitive.
  4. I went to the refrigerator but left empty-handed. – This sentence contains two verbs, but both are intransitive. Neither ‘went’ nor ‘left’ has an object upon which it is acting, so this sentence does not contain a transitive verb.
  5. She always eats too much when she’s nervous. – Eats is the verb in this sentence, but it does not take an object. A transitive use of eats would be “She eats sugar a lot when she’s nervous,” in which the object would be sugar. In this case, though, eats is intransitive.

Further Grammar Study

Now that you can define transitive verbs, understand how they are used, and provide transitive verb examples, you can broaden your understanding of English grammar rules by studying other kinds of verbs, and other parts of speech as well, including nouns, adjectives, adverbs, articles, and direct and indirect objects. Understanding and using correct grammar are important aspects of any form of education. This skill allows you to write and speak properly, which will advance your academic and professional pursuits, and benefit your continuing education.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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