What Is a Transitive Verb? | Examples, Definition & Quiz

A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object (e.g., a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase) to indicate the person or thing acted upon by the verb. For example, in the sentence “I received a letter,” the direct object is necessary for the statement to make sense.

In contrast, an intransitive verb is a verb that doesn’t take a direct object (e.g., “Hannah runs”). Some verbs can be classed as either transitive or intransitive, depending on how they are used.

Examples: Transitive verbs in a sentence
Katarina raised her hand.

We gave Kevin a voucher for his birthday.

Anthony borrowed a book from the library.

How are transitive verbs used in sentences?

Transitive verbs follow the same rules as most other verbs (i.e., they must follow subject-verb agreement and be conjugated for tense, mood, and voice). A verb is transitive if it requires a direct object (i.e., a thing acted upon by the verb) to function correctly and make sense.

In sentences containing transitive verbs, the direct object usually comes immediately after the verb. Objects can be nouns, pronouns, or noun phrases (i.e., a noun or pronoun along with all relevant modifiers, such as articles, adjectives, and attributive nouns).

Examples: How to use transitive verbs
  • I will carry.
  • I will carry the grocery bags.
  • Tanya is examining.
  • Tanya is examining an old manuscript.

Ditransitive verbs

A ditransitive verb is a type of transitive verb that takes two objects: a direct and an indirect object. An indirect object indicates the person or thing that receives the direct object.

The indirect object normally comes before the direct object. When it instead comes afterward, it becomes a prepositional phrase starting with a preposition such as “to” or “for.”

Examples: Direct and indirect objects
Emily sent her pen pal a letter last week.

Chris gave Tracy his last piece of chewing gum.

Oran is reading a story to his daughter.

Adriana bought food for the guests.

Note
When a pronoun is used as the object of a verb, whether direct or indirect, it should always take the form of an object pronoun (e.g., me, us, him, her). Subject pronouns (e.g., I, we, he, she) should never be used for objects.

  • I asked she a question.
  • I asked her a question.
  • Paige and John sent we a wedding invitation.
  • Paige and John sent us a wedding invitation.

Transitive vs. intransitive verbs

Unlike transitive verbs, intransitive verbs don’t act upon anything, so they don’t require an object. However, a transitive verb can be followed by a modifier such as an adverb or prepositional phrase to describe how or where the subject performs the action.

Examples: Intransitive verbs in a sentence
Hector is sitting.

Philip reads quietly.

Amira danced in the kitchen.

Ambitransitive verbs

Some verbs can be used only as transitive (e.g., “enjoy”) or intransitive verbs (e.g., “sit”). However, some verbs can function as either transitive or intransitive verbs, depending on how they are used in a sentence. These are called ambitransitive verbs.

Examples: Ambitransitive verbs
Janice sang (her favorite song).

Cole is reading (a magazine).

We are playing (a board game).

Tip
If you’re unsure whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, try rephrasing the sentence in the passive voice (i.e., make the object of the original sentence the subject of the new sentence). Intransitive verbs do not take an object, so if you can rewrite the sentence in the passive voice, it definitely contains a transitive verb.

  • Sara gave a short speech.
  • A short speech was given by Sara.

Quiz: Transitive and intransitive verbs

Other interesting language articles

If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, common mistakes, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

 

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Frequently asked questions

What are transitive verbs?

A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object (e.g., a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase) that indicates the person or thing affected by the verb.

The direct object usually comes immediately after the verb (e.g., “Karen is taking a photo”). Without a direct object (in this case, “a photo”), sentences containing transitive verbs do not make sense (e.g., “Karen is taking”).

What is the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb?

Verbs are classed as either transitive or intransitive depending on whether they need a direct object to form a complete thought.

  • Transitive verbs require a direct object that indicates the person or thing acted upon by the verb (e.g., “I like coffee”).
  • Intransitive verbs do not require a direct object (e.g., “Tori stands”).
What are direct and indirect objects?

A grammatical object is a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that’s affected by the action of a verb.

  • A direct object is a person or thing acted upon by a verb.
  • An indirect object indicates the person or thing that receives the direct object.

For example, in the sentence “I read Mia a story,” “a story” is the direct object (receiving the action) and “Mia” is the indirect object (receiving the direct object). Verbs that require a direct object to function correctly are called transitive verbs.

Sources in this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Ryan, E. (2023, January 19). What Is a Transitive Verb? | Examples, Definition & Quiz. Scribbr. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/verbs/transitive-verbs/

Sources

Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.

Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.