Let’s learn more about verbs

Verbs in English can be divided into two groups: transitive verbs and intransitive verbs.

Transitive verbs

Transitive verbs require an object to complete their meaning.

Imagine that I say:

  • bought.

This sentence is incomplete. There is information that is missing.
You are probably wondering what I bought. (What did you buy Rob?)

Why is this sentence incomplete?

Because BOUGHT (the past of buy) is a transitive verb and a transitive verb needs an object after it to complete the sentence. The object after a transitive verb can be a noun or a pronoun.

  • bought a car.

Now the sentence is complete and we can understand it. We added the object “a car” after the verb.

Let’s look at some other examples.

If someone says:

  • She likes. (incomplete)

You probably think … She likes WHAT? (What does she like?)
Like is a transitive verb so we need an object after the verb.

  • She likes chocolate.

Now we know what she likes so this sentence is complete and correct.

  • invited Angelica.

You cannot just say I invited because the sentence is incomplete. The person who is listening would probably ask “Whom did you invite?” So we need an object (in this case a person) after the transitive verb invite.

  • cut my finger.

You cannot just say I cut because the sentence is incomplete. The person who is listening would probably ask “Cut what?”

Cut is a transitive verb because you need to cut something (an object, a thing).

  • The man stole a bike.

We need to say WHAT the man stole in order to understand the sentence/situation. Steal (stole is the past tense of steal) is a transitive verb. The object in this sentence is the bike.

Transitive verbs need an object after them. This object receives the action of the verb.

Transitive verbs always ask “what?” or “whom?”

What did you buy? – I bought a car.

What did you cut? – I cut my finger.

Whom did she invite? – I invited Angelica.

Subject + transitive verb + object

Transitive Phrasal Verbs

The same rule applies to transitive phrasal verbs.

If someone says: “I’m looking for”, you would automatically think “Looking for what? Looking for whom?”

  • I am looking for my keys.

My keys is the object (that you are looking for). Now the sentence is clear.

We need to add an object to make the sentence complete.

More examples of transitive phrasal verbs in sentences:

  • He’s looking for his passport.
  • You should put on a jacket because it’s cold outside.
  • Can you turn off the light when you leave the room please?

Now look at this sentence.

  • Please take off your shoes before entering the house.

The object appears after the transitive verb as we have seen so far.

However, sometimes the object goes in the MIDDLE of the transitive phrasal verb. For example:

  • Please take your shoes off before entering the house.

Both sentences are correct. With some phrasal verbs you can put the object in the middle but that is not always the case.

Transitive Verbs – Passive Form

Transitive verbs can have a passive form.
Active: Subject + transitive verb + object
Passive: Object + was/were + transitive verb (+ by subject)

  • Thieves stole his car. (active)
  • His car was stolen. (passive)
  • Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. (active)
  • The light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison. (passive)
  • They sold some books. (active)
  • Some books were sold. (passive)

Example sentences using transitive verbs

  • We enjoyed the concert.
  • opened the door.
  • She kicked the ball.
  • He took me to a restaurant.
  • saw an accident.
  • He copied my answer.

Intransitive verbs

Intransitive verbs cannot have a direct object after them.

The subject is doing the action of the verb and nothing receives the action. An intransitive verb does not pass the action to an object.

  • He arrived.

Here we cannot have an object after the intransitive verb arrive. You cannot “arrive something” (incorrect).
An intransitive verb expresses an action that is complete in itself and it doesn’t need an object to receive the action.

  • The baby smiled.

Here we cannot have an object after the intransitive verb smiled. You cannot “smile something” (incorrect).

  • The apple fell from the tree.

You cannot “fall something” so the verb is intransitive. “From the tree” is not an object, it is an adverbial phrase (= it acts like an adverb and tells us where it happened).

Example sentences using intransitive verbs

  • We arrived around midday.
  • She sneezed loudly.
  • Your baby cries a lot.
  • His grandfather died last year.
  • The rain fell heavily.
  • was waiting but nothing happened.
  • The jokes were not funny and nobody laughed.
  • walk to work every day.
  • We sat on the bench.
  • He stood in the corner.
  • We waited but nobody came.

Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

The same rule applies to intransitive phrasal verbs. You cannot have an object after an intransitive phrasal verb.

  • My car broke down on the way to work.

Broke down in the past tense of break downBreak down means to stop working. You cannot “break down something”. Break down is an intransitive phrasal verb.

  • Can you sit down please?

You cannot “sit down something”.

Some more example sentences with intransitive phrasal verbs:

  • grew up in New Zealand.
  • You are driving too fast. Can you slow down?
  • We should dress up for the party.
  • Nobody found out that I didn’t have an invitation.
  • get up at 7 every morning.
  • What time do you think he is going to show up?

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Many verbs can be both transitive and intransitive. They can be transitive in one sentence and intransitive in another sentence.

  • You have grown since I last saw you. (intransitive)
  • You have grown a beard since I last saw you. (transitive)

Sometimes the meaning changes depending on whether the verb is transitive or intransitive

  • He runs along the beach every morning (intransitive: run – the action/sport)
  • He runs a small grocery store (transitive: run = manage)
  • The plane will take off in five minutes. (intransitive: take off = to leave the ground and begin to fly)
  • Please take off your shoes before entering the house. (transitive: take off = to remove something)

Example sentences of verbs that are both transitive and intransitive

Ttransitive – Intransitive

stopped the car. –  The car stopped.
broke my coffee mug. – My coffee mug broke.
The summer heat melted my ice cream. – My ice cream melted.
She speaks Arabic. –  She speaks very quickly.
Mike is reading a book. – Mike is reading.
New Zealand won the match. – New Zealand won.

Phrasal Verbs that are Transitive and Intransitive

Some phrasal verbs can be both transitive and intransitive. They can be transitive in one sentence and intransitive in another sentence. You need to be careful. Sometimes the meaning of a phrasal verb changes depending on whether it is transitive or intransitive. Let’s look at the following example:

Take off (transitive) = to remove something

Take off (intransitive) = to leave the ground and begin to fly

  • He took off his tie when he got home.

He took off, the past of take off, is transitive so it needs an object, in this case his tie. Since there is an object after take off, we know the meaning can be to remove something. So, he removed his tie when he got home.

The next example:

  • The plane will take off in ten minutes.

In this case take off is intransitive and has a different meaning. The meaning of leaving the ground in order to fly.

You can see that here, there are two different meanings (or uses) of “Take off”. When take off is transitive it means to remove something (that something is an object). When take off doesn’t have an object after it, it is intransitive and can mean to leave the ground.

Also note that the same phrasal verb, for example take off, can have more than one meaning (yes, even 7 or 8 different meanings).

A good dictionary will tell you whether a verb is transitive (usually vt. or tr. next to the verb in dictionaries) or intransitive (vi. or intr.)

Based on: https://www.woodwardenglish.com

In each of the following sentences, choose whether the bolded verb is transitive or intransitive.

  1. worked all night.
  2. He gave the book to the teacher.
  3. They laughed at the joke.
  4. She slept for eight hours.
  5. We lived in Mexico for two years.
  6. like her.
  7. We clean our room every day.
  8. My brother moved to another city.
  9. My brother moved his car.
  10. Those people painted their house blue.
  11. We are playing the violin.
  12. The children are playing in the street.
  13. He is writing his parents a letter.
  14. They aren’t reading, they are writing.
  15. am sleeping.
  16. You are flying to Paris.
  17. He is picking a card for his mother.
  18. The students are answering the questions.
  19. He is taking a test.
  20. They are starting at 2:00 PM.