• Home
  • Blog
  • Verbs

What Is an Intransitive Verb? | Examples, Definition & Quiz

Verbs updated on  January 9, 2024 3 min read
Intransitive verbs are verbs that don’t take a direct object (a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that receives the action of a verb). For example, “exist” is an intransitive verb, as it’s not possible to “exist” something.

In contrast, a transitive verb is one that does require a direct object. A sentence that uses the verb “examined,” for instance, would not make sense without specifying who or what receives the action of the verb (e.g., “Mary examined the manuscript”). Depending on the context in which they’re used, some verbs can function as either transitive or intransitive verbs.

Examples: Intransitive verbs in a sentence
Philip cringed.
Madeline sneezes often.
Renate is jogging along the path.

What is an intransitive verb?

Intransitive verbs conform to the standard rules for subject-verb agreement, as well as following the rules of conjugation for tense and mood.

Although they are never followed by an object, intransitive verbs are often followed by modifiers that describe how, when, or where something occurs, such as adverbs, adverbial clauses, or prepositional phrases.

Examples: Intransitive verbs
The volcano erupted.
Alexa is grinning smugly.
She doesn’t sleep as much as she would like.
Evan peered behind the curtain.

Transitive vs intransitive verbs

Transitive verbs, in contrast to intransitive verbs, always take a direct object, which specifies the recipient of the action. Typically, direct objects follow directly after the verb. Sentences that contain transitive verbs are incomplete without a direct object.

Examples: How to use transitive verbs
He will cut.
He will cut the onions.

Mike borrowed.
Mike borrowed my car.

Tip
To test whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, try to rewrite the sentence to make the object of the original sentence the subject of the new sentence (i.e., rephrase the sentence in the passive voice). If it’s possible to use the verb to convey the same idea in the passive voice, the verb is definitely transitive.

Conservators restored the damaged painting.
The damaged painting was restored by conservators.

Ambitransitive verbs

Verbs that can be used either transitively or intransitively in different contexts are called ambitransitive verbs.

Examples: Ambitransitive verbs
Abigail cooks (spaghetti).
Lance is teaching (a course).
Helen read (an essay).

Note
In some cases, using a direct object with an ambitransitive verb does not affect the sentence’s meaning. Adding “an apple” to the sentence “I ate,” for example, adds detail without altering the verb’s original meaning. In other cases, however, adding a direct object changes the meaning of a verb (e.g., “They ran” vs. “They ran the company”).

Transitive and intransitive verbs exercises

Test your knowledge of transitive verbs with the exercises below. Select the correct answer for each question.
Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Verbs

Nouns

Rhetoric

Present participle

Concrete noun

Oxymoron

Linking verb

Common noun

Double entendre

Auxiliary verb

Abstract noun

Sibilance

Simple present tense

Proper noun

Cliché

Modal verb

Appositive

Paraprosdokian


Frequently asked questions about intransitive verbs

What are intransitive verbs?

Intransitive verbs don’t require a direct object (i.e., the person or thing that receives the verb’s action, represented by a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase).

The sentence “Andrew lent,” for example, would not make sense without a direct object.

What are some examples of intransitive verbs?

Intransitive verbs don’t take direct objects. Examples of intransitive verbs include “dream,” “exist,” “stare,” “agree,” and “smile.”

How can I identify transitive and intransitive verbs?

A verb can be either transitive or intransitive depending on whether it requires an indirect object (i.e., a noun or pronoun) to identify who or what receives the action.

Verbs that do take a direct object are transitive verbs (e.g., “I planted strawberries”).

Verbs that do not take a direct object are intransitive verbs (e.g., “The baby is smiling”).

To determine whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, assess whether any person or thing is receiving the verb’s action.

Tags

Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.