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

Verbs updated on  May 31, 2024 3 min read
Transitive verbs are verbs that require a direct object to complete their meaning. The direct object (which can be a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase) receives the action of the verb.

For example, the sentence “The builder constructed a new house” would not make sense without the direct object, “a new house.”

Intransitive verbs, in contrast, do not require a direct object to complete their meaning. They express a complete action without an object. For example, the verb “sleep” makes sense without an object (e.g., “The children slept”).

Ambitransitive verbs are verbs that can be used with or without a direct object, depending on the context (e.g., “sing,” “read,” “eat”).

Transitive verbs examples
Beethoven composed piano sonatas.
The medics administer life-saving treatments.
The chef carefully lifted the plate.

What is a transitive verb?

Transitive verbs follow the same rules of conjugation, mood, and subject-verb agreement as most other verbs. However, they are unique in that they must have a direct object. In other words, they are verbs that always act upon someone or something.

A direct object, which receives the verb’s action, can be a noun (e.g., “cat”), pronoun (e.g., “it”), or noun phrase (i.e., a noun and its modifiers, such as “the grumpy old cat”). A direct object usually occurs right after a transitive verb.

Transitive verbs examples
I dropped.
I dropped the ball.

Yuko is scanning.
Yuko is scanning the article.

Ditransitive verbs

Ditransitive verbs are a subcategory of transitive verbs that require two objects to complete their meaning: a direct object and an indirect object. The direct object receives the action directly from the verb, while the indirect object indicates the recipient or beneficiary of the direct object.

To differentiate ditransitive verbs from transitive verbs, consider whether the verb requires two objects to make sense. For instance, in the sentence “The teacher gave the students a test,” the verb “gave” requires both the direct object (“a test”) and the indirect object (“the students”) to convey its meaning.

The indirect object typically precedes the direct object in a sentence. However, when it follows the direct object, it is part of a prepositional phrase introduced by prepositions such as “to” and “for.”

Direct and indirect object examples
She sent her editor a draft of her new novel.
The principal handed the student a stack of books.
We served a delicious brunch to our guests.
David baked a pie for his neighbor.

Note
If a pronoun is used as the object of a verb, it should always be in the form of an object pronoun (e.g., “her,” “us,” “me”). A subject pronoun (e.g., “she,” “we,” “I”) can never function as an object.

Clarice asked him a question.
Clarice asked he a question.

The vendor sent us a bill.
The vendor sent we a bill.

Transitive vs intransitive verbs

In contrast to transitive verbs, intransitive verbs don’t require an object because they don’t act upon anything. They can, however, be followed by modifiers that describe how, when, or where an action occurs, such as adverbs and prepositional phrases.

Intransitive verbs examples
The wind whistled eerily.
A bat flew into the rafters.
We sat restlessly in the waiting room.

Ambitransitive verbs

While some verbs are strictly transitive, demanding an object to complete their meaning, others are exclusively intransitive, functioning independently without an object. However, some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on the context. These are known as ambitransitive verbs.

Ambitransitive verbs examples
John is texting (Paul).
Paola reads (science fiction) in the treehouse.
We’re cooking (bolognese sauce).

Tip
To determine whether a sentence contains a transitive verb, try rewriting it in the passive voice (i.e., try to form a new sentence using the sentence’s object as a subject).

For example, “The postal service lost my package” could be rephrased as “My package was lost by the postal service.”

Intransitive verbs do not take a direct object, so it’s impossible to use the passive voice with an intransitive verb.

Transitive verbs exercises

Test your understanding of Transitive verbs with these exercise questions.
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.


Commas

Parts of speech

Commonly confused words

Comma before because

Nouns

Flier vs flyer

Comma before such as

Collective nouns

Its vs it’s

Comma splice

Verbs

Use to or used to

Comma before or after but

Noun clauses

Alright vs all right

Comma before too

Predicate nominative

Affective vs effective


Frequently asked questions about transitive verbs

What is the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs?

The difference between transitive and intransitive verbs is that transitive verbs demand a direct object, while intransitive verbs do not.

A direct object is the person or thing that a transitive verb acts upon (e.g., “I love pistachios”).

Intransitive verbs convey a clear idea without a direct object (e.g., “Richard swims”).

What are direct and indirect objects?

In grammar, an object is a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that receives the action of a verb.

Direct objects receive the action of the verb (e.g., “I threw the ball”), while indirect objects describe who or what receives the direct object (e.g., “I threw Jose the ball”).

If a verb requires a direct object, it is called a transitive verb.

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Magedah Shabo

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

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