Transitive and Intransitive Verbs: Difference and Their Proper Usage

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs: Difference and Their Proper Usage
In order to understand whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, all you need to do is ask whether the verb takes an object or not. While a transitive verb has an object that receives the action of the verb, an intransitive verb doesn't. This Penlighten post provides examples that will help you understand the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
After reading a sentence, look for a word that tells you what or who received the action. If you find such a word in the sentence, then the verb is transitive. If there is no such word, then the verb is intransitive. In case of intransitive words, you might find a word or phrase that answers "when, where, how, or why."
A verb is a word or a part of speech that describes an action, occurrence, or existence. Verbs could be used to express physical actions, mental actions, or indicate a state of being. There are three types of verbs: action verbs, helping verbs, and linking verbs. Action verbs, as the name suggests, are verbs that express action. The person who performs the action represented by the verb is called the subject. The action might be performed on someone or something, which becomes the direct object. At times, a sentence might have a direct as well as an indirect object.

While a direct object is the person or thing that receives the action directly, the indirect object is the thing or person for whom the action has been performed. Action verbs could be transitive or intransitive. The key to determining whether a verb is transitive or intransitive is to determine whether the action from the subject is received by an object or not. If yes, then the verb is transitive, otherwise it is intransitive. Let's understand this concept with the help of examples.
Difference Between Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
✦ The major difference between the transitive and intransitive verbs is that there is a direct object that receives the action in case of transitive verbs.

✦ The direct object is central to transitive verbs; the transitive verb could also have an indirect object that precedes the direct object.

✦ A transitive verb requires a direct object in order to complete its meaning and provide a clearer picture about the action.
✦ An intransitive verb is never followed by a noun or any word that acts as the object.

✦ The sentence might end with the verb, or the verb might be modified by a prepositional phrase or an adverb. Thus, the sentence would not tell you who or what received the action, or for whom the action was performed.

✦ The prepositional phrase or the adverb that modifies the verb would tell the reader how, where, when, or the manner in which the action is performed.
Examples of Transitive Verbs and Intransitive Verbs
In the following examples, the transitive and intransitive verbs are highlighted, and the direct object is underlined.
He sent a letter.

In this sentence, 'he' is the subject, 'sent' is the verb, and 'letter' is the direct object. The sentence explains what was sent. Thus, sent is a transitive verb.
He spoke loudly.

In this sentence, spoke is an intransitive verb, as the verb is followed by an adverb that tells you how the subject spoke. It is not followed by a direct object.
John hit the ball.

Ball is the direct object, as it explains what John (subject) hit. Thus, hit is a transitive verb.
She sleeps too much.

In this sentence, sleeps is an intransitive verb, as it is not followed by a direct object that receives the action expressed by the verb.
The professor gave a lecture.

Lecture is the direct object, as it explains what the subject gave.
She sat at the table.

In this sentence, the verb sat is intransitive, as it is not followed by a direct object.
He told a story.

Told is a transitive verb, as the direct object 'story' explains what he told, thereby completing the action expressed by the verb.
The train got delayed.

The verb got delayed is intransitive, as there is no object in the sentence that receives the action expressed by the verb.
She lives in a mansion.

In this sentence, the verb lives is intransitive, as the sentence doesn't have a direct object.
He sent a mail to Robert.

Here, sent is the transitive verb, and the mail is what he (subject) sent. The mail is the direct object. Robert is the indirect object, as it tells the readers about the person to whom the mail was sent.
She grew up to be a teacher.

The verb grew is intransitive, as it is followed by the phrase 'to be a teacher', and not a direct object.
He raised his hands.

Raised is a transitive verb, as it is followed by the direct object, hands.
The dog barked loudly.

The verb barked is intransitive, as the following word 'loudly' is not a direct object; it just explains how the dog barked.
She finally got her license.

Got is a transitive verb, as the action expressed is completed by the direct object, license.
They reached the theater ten minutes after the movie started.

In this sentence, reached and started are intransitive verbs. These don't have direct objects.
She wore a necklace.

In this sentence, wore is a transitive verb, as the verb is followed by the direct object.
She lay under the tree.

Lay is an intransitive verb, as it does not have a direct object that receives the action.
He ran through the fields.

Ran is an intransitive verb, as it is not followed by a direct object.
She stopped the car.

Stopped is a transitive verb, as the action expressed by the verb is received by the direct object, car.
The girls sang.

In this sentence, the verb sang is intransitive, as the action expressed by sang is not received by a direct object.
Susan fell off the horse.

In this sentence, fell is a transitive verb, as the action expressed by the verb is received by the direct object, horse.
She stood quietly.

In this sentence, stood is an intransitive verb, as it is not followed by a direct object. It tells you how the subject stood.
She broke a glass.

Broke is a transitive verb, as the action expressed by the verb is received by the direct object, arm.
She cleaned the vase.

In this sentence, cleaned is a transitive verb, as the sentence has a direct object, which is the vase.
She loves junk food.

In this sentence, the verb loves is transitive, as it is followed by the direct object, junk food.
The car stopped suddenly.

In this sentence, stopped is an intransitive verb, as it is not followed by a direct object. It tells you how the car stopped.
The birds are flying in the sky.

In this sentence, the verb 'are flying' is intransitive, as it is not followed by a direct object. It tells you where the birds are flying.
She stitched a shirt.

Stitched is an transitive verb, as it is followed by 'shirt', the direct object or noun that completes the action expressed by the verb.
He complains a lot.

In this sentence, complains is an intransitive verb, as it is not followed by a direct object that receives or completes the action expressed by the verb.
She moved the furniture.

Moved is an transitive verb, as it is followed by the direct object, which is 'furniture', the noun that completes the action expressed by the verb.
She reads.

In this sentence, reads is an intransitive verb, as the sentence ends with the verb, and the sentence doesn't have an object that receives the action.
She baked some cookies.

In this sentence, baked is a transitive verb. Cookies is the direct object, as it explains what the subject baked.
The book fell.

In this sentence, fell is an intransitive verb, as there is no object to receive or complete the action expressed by the verb.
She has a headache.

In this sentence, has is a transitive verb. The word headache is the direct object, as it receives the action of the verb, explaining what the subject has.
The sun rises in the east.

In this sentence, the verb rises is intransitive, as the action expressed by the verb is not received by a direct object. The sentence just explains where the sun rises.
Do you like poetry?

In this sentence, like is a transitive verb, as it is followed by the direct object, poetry.
He spoke the truth.

Spoke is a transitive verb, as it is followed by the direct object, truth.
She ate hastily.

In this sentence, there is no object receiving the action expressed by the verb 'ate', which is why it is an intransitive verb.
He owns many cars.

In this sentence, owns is a transitive verb, as the action expressed by it is received or completed by the direct object, cars.
She has been sneezing all day.

In this sentence, the verb has been sneezing is intransitive, as the verb is used without a direct object.
After going through the aforementioned examples, you would have understood that differentiating transitive verbs from intransitive verbs is not difficult at all. All you need to do is look for a direct object that receives the action that the verb expresses. Sentences with intransitive verbs can end with the verb or might be followed by adverbs or prepositional phrases that only explain how, when, where, or why the action is performed.