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Transitive Verb vs. Intransitive Verb: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 24, 2024
A transitive verb requires a direct object to complete its meaning, while an intransitive verb does not take a direct object and stands alone in a sentence.

Key Differences

A transitive verb necessitates the presence of a direct object in a sentence to complete its meaning. It acts upon something or someone. In contrast, an intransitive verb does not require a direct object; its action does not act on anything or anyone.
In sentences with transitive verbs, the structure typically follows the pattern of subject-verb-object. Intransitive verbs often result in a subject-verb pattern, with no object following the verb.
Transitive verbs convey actions that inherently affect something else, and their meaning is incomplete without an object. Intransitive verbs are self-contained in their action and meaning, providing complete sense without needing an object.
Common transitive verbs include words like 'eat', 'throw', 'bring', where the action is done to an object. Examples of intransitive verbs include 'sleep', 'arrive', 'sit', where the action remains with the subject.
Some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive, depending on their use in a sentence. The context and sentence construction determine whether a verb is functioning transitively or intransitively.

Comparison Chart

Object Requirement

Requires a direct object
Does not require a direct object

Sentence Structure

Typically follows subject-verb-object pattern
Often follows subject-verb pattern

Meaning Completeness

Incomplete without an object
Complete in itself, no object needed

Example Actions

Affect something else (e.g., 'eat an apple')
Action remains with the subject (e.g., 'sleep')


Can be used intransitively in some contexts
Can rarely be used transitively

Transitive Verb and Intransitive Verb Definitions

Transitive Verb

Can change meaning when used without an object.
He kicked the ball.

Intransitive Verb

Its action remains with the subject, not transferring to an object.
Birds fly.

Transitive Verb

A verb that requires a direct object to complete its action.
She played the piano beautifully.

Intransitive Verb

Forms a complete thought with just a subject and verb.
He sleeps.

Transitive Verb

Expresses an action carried out by the subject onto an object.
He broke the glass.

Intransitive Verb

Conveys a complete action without affecting anything else.
The sun set.

Transitive Verb

Demonstrates an action that has a direct effect on something else.
She loves her dog.

Intransitive Verb

A verb that does not require a direct object.
The baby laughed.

Transitive Verb

Needs an object to convey a complete thought.
They are reading a book.

Intransitive Verb

Often indicates states of being or motions.
She arrived late.


Can a verb be both transitive and intransitive?

Yes, depending on context and usage.

How is an intransitive verb identified?

It doesn’t take a direct object and stands alone in a sentence.

What's an example of a transitive verb?

"Eat" in "She eats an apple."

Give an example of an intransitive verb.

"Laugh" in "The audience laughed."

What defines a transitive verb?

A verb that requires a direct object to complete its meaning.

Can a transitive verb exist without an object in a sentence?

No, it requires an object to make sense.

Why are transitive verbs important?

They help in expressing complete actions and relationships between subject and object.

How do you identify the object of a transitive verb?

Ask 'what' or 'whom' after the verb.

Are all action verbs transitive?

No, many action verbs can be intransitive.

Do intransitive verbs express complete thoughts?

Yes, they provide complete meaning without an object.

How does context affect a verb’s transitivity?

The same verb can be transitive or intransitive based on sentence construction.

What happens if a transitive verb is used without an object?

The sentence usually becomes grammatically incorrect or incomplete.

Can intransitive verbs have complements?

Yes, like adverbs or adverbial phrases, but not direct objects.

Are linking verbs transitive or intransitive?

They are generally intransitive.

What is a direct object in relation to a transitive verb?

It's the noun or pronoun affected by the verb's action.

How do you teach the difference between these verbs?

By using examples and practicing sentence construction.

What role do intransitive verbs play in a sentence?

They express an action or state of being without affecting an object.

Can intransitive verbs become transitive?

Rarely, and usually in different contexts or with different meanings.

Are most verbs in English transitive or intransitive?

English has a mix, but many common verbs can be used both ways.

Do transitive verbs always follow a specific pattern?

They often follow the subject-verb-object pattern.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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