Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
Verbs that express an action may be transitive or intransitive, depending on whether or not they take an object.
The meaning of a transitive verb is incomplete without a direct object. For example:
|The shelf holds.||The shelf holds three books and a vase of flowers.|
|The committee named.||The committee named a new chairperson.|
|Joe broke.||Joe broke the plate.|
An intransitive verb cannot take a direct object.
|This plant has thrived on the south windowsill.||The compound verb has thrived is intransitive and takes no direct object. The prepositional phrase on the south windowsill acts as an adverb describing where the plant thrives.|
|The sound of the choir carried through the cathedral.||The verb carried is used intransitively and takes no direct object. The prepositional phrase through the cathedral acts as an adverb describing where the sound carried.|
|The train from Montréal arrived four hours late.||The intransitive verb arrived takes no direct object, and the noun phrase four hours late acts as an adverb describing when the train arrived.|
|Since the company was pleasant and the coffee both plentiful and good, we lingered in the restaurant for several hours.||The verb lingered is used intransitively and takes no direct object. The prepositional phrases in the restaurant and for several hours act as adverbs modifying lingered.|
|The painting was hung on the south wall of the reception room.||The compound verb was hung is used intransitively, and the sentence has no direct object. The prepositional phrase on the south wall of the reception room acts as an adverb describing where the painting was hung.|
Many verbs can be either transitive or intransitive depending on how they are used in a sentence.
|According to my hairdresser, we must leave this goo in our hair for twenty minutes.||The verb leave is used transitively and takes a direct object, the noun phrase this goo.|
|We would like to stay longer, but we must leave.||The verb leave is used intransitively and does not take a direct object.|
|The critics attentively watched the latest production of the play.||The verb watch is used transitively and takes the noun phrase the latest production of the play as a direct object.|
|The cook watched while the new waiter surreptitiously picked up the shards of glass.||The verb watched is used intransitively and takes no direct object.|
|The crowd moved across the field in an attempt to see the rock star get into her helicopter.||Here the verb moved is used intransitively and takes no direct object.|
|Every spring, William moves all the boxes and trunks from one side of the attic to the other.||In this sentence moves is used as a transitive verb and takes the noun phrase all the boxes and trunks as a direct object.|
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© Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Ottawa
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