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Transitive and Intransitive verbs

Verbs can be classified in many ways. One way is to group them into transitive and intransitive verbs Transitive verbs are immediately followed by a direct object, whereas intransitive verbs may have a direct object following a preposition. Be carefull!! because passive forms and phrasal verbs also have prepositions. Look at the seagull. Is the verb to hit transitive [T] or intransitive [I] ?


Wait for the bus. [I]

Hit the ball. [T]

Sit on that chair. [I]

Lay the table [T]

1 - Grammar focus: - Transitive and intransitive verbs

For each of these verbs, decide whether they are: Always transitive, Always intransitive or Could be either transitive or intransitive.
  1. burn
  2. describe
  3. show
  4. invite
  5. spoil
  6. eat
  7. sleep
  8. Wake
  9. Want
  10. Send
  11. Happen
  12. Surprise
  13. Pull
  14. Lose
  15. Sit
  16. Start
  17. Listen
  18. Explain
  19. Shut
  20. Warn
  21. Make
  22. Fall
  23. Come
  24. Go

2 - Example Verbs

Click for a new verb then make a sentence with the correct form of that verb. Note Some verbs are made from two or three words. These are called phrasal verb. Phrasal verbs have their own rules about whether objects can split the phrasal verb words, but phrasal verbs also behave much the same as other verbs.

Click for another verb

3 Problems in identifying transitive and intransitive verb forms

Beware of the traps Here are some things that we should consider when deciding whether a verb is transitive or intransitive.

  1. The verb is not really a verb in the sentence.

    Sometimes adjectives can be formed by verb forms. Eg: I was lost in my thoughts.
    In this sentence , the words 'lost in ' do not form an intransitive form of to lose because 'lost' is an adjective here!
    (Form = (be) + adjective.

  2. Phrasal verbs can have the form VERB + PREPOSITION. When a phrasal verb uses a verb which is normally only transitive, we may see the preposition and mistake it for an intransitive verb.
  3. Passive or intransitive verb form? We may read a passive sentence and see the preposition BY and think that the verb is an intransitive form Verb + preposition
  4. Confusing phrasal verbs with verbs.

    A transitive verb may appear as the main verb part of a phrasal verb but that phrasal verb is another verb with another meaning and not an [I] intransitive form of the main verb. Eg: I carried off a great victory. (Not an intransitive verb form of to carry but a transitive verb to carry off (meaning to achieve).

  5. Sometimes a transitive verbs object is omitted or implied, making it appear to be intransitive. That is when then direct object is not stated but is understood in the sentence.
    Eg. I'm looking for a place to park (the car).
  6. Seeing a preposition 'to' after the first verb, when a verb follows a verb.
    An intransitive verb has a preposition before the direct object but sometimes a transitive verb can have a preposition before another verb. This is a verb plus verb form.

    He started to read much too quickly. (Here to read is another verb and so the whole phrase to read much too quickly is what he started.

  7. Confusing the preposition by of a passive form with an intransitive verb form.

    The cakes were burnt by the chef.
    This is not an intransitive form, although the verb is again followed by a preposition. A passive form usually indicates a transitive verb.

  8. Seeing a transitive or intransitive form of a verb and assuming that the verb can not take another form.

    You may see that sleep on the bed. is intransitive and incorrectly think that no transitive form of this verb exists. Remember that verbs can be transitive, intransitive or both

4 Dictionary notation

The Cambridge online dictionary and others, mark verbs as [T] transitive, [I] intransitive or both. It can be easy to make examples of sentences and see whether the form is transitive of intransitive, but it can also be easy to miss the fact that a verb may have a particular form. This can be a problem for those verbs which can be both transitive and intransitive according to the usage.

5 Transitive verbs without objects

Sometimes transitive verbs can have their objects left out because the meaning is obvious from the context.

Which of the underlined objects in these sentences can be omitted?
  1. I can't find anywhere to park the car.
  2. He really enjoys cooking bard.
  3. They found the cat under the stairs.
  4. She's been smoking cigarettes for years.
  5. He slowly and carefully opened the briefcase.

6 Example sentences

  1. burn (verb [T]) The queen of hearts, burnt the tarts.
  2. start [T] Start the car. Start the day. When do you start your course/your new job?
  3. start [I] Could you start by weeding the garden for me? Can you start on Monday? [I]
  4. want (verb [T]) I want a cake.
  5. happen (verb [I]) It can happen to anyone. What's happening there? (there ADVERB, no direct object, so this is an intransitive verb.) It happened yesterday. It happened ON Thursday. It happened TO me.
  6. surprise (verb [T]) I surprised him. [T].
  7. surprise (verb [I]) I was surprised by that film. [I]
  8. surprise (verb [I]) You will be surprised athow quickly you can drive in this car. I'm surprised to see you here.
  9. eat (verb [T,I])
    1. He was eaten by a lion. (passive ,so transitive)
    2. Would you please eat on the table. [I]
    3. We usually eat at seven o'clock.
  10. shut (verb [T])
    1. Shut the door! [T]
    2. Shut out the dogs. [I] exclude/lock out.
  11. warn (verb [T,I]) He was warned not to go there. [T] He was warned (about/against/of/off) that. [I]
  12. explain (verb [T]) Explain something to somebody. Can you explain (that) to me [T]
  13. wake (verb [T])
    1. He was woken by a loud noise. [T-passive]
    2. Wake me at ten o'clock. [T]
    3. I woke up with a headache.
  14. make (verb [T])
    1. Make the beds. [T]
    2. It is made of wood. [I]
  15. fall (verb [I])
    1. Fall by the wayside. [I]
    2. Fall over/on/off/into/through/across [I]
  16. spoil (verb [T]) He spoilt the child. [T] Too many cooks spoil the broth. (old proverb - opposite in meaning to 'Many hands make light work!'.
  17. To park. [T]
  18. To balance I balanced on the high wire [I] I balanced a plate on a mans head. [T]
  19. To give: I gave him the book. I gave the book to him. (passive from [T])
  20. To suggest: I suggested that he bought some clothes. I suggested TO him that he buys some new clothes.
  21. Implication NOUN imply (verb)
  22. park [I or T] I'm going to park. I'm going to park on the corner of the street.

    park verb [I or T] to put a vehicle in a place where it can stay for a period of time, usually while you leave it Where have you parked? Just park your car in the driveway. [T + adverb or preposition]

    informal to put yourself or something in a particular place for a long time, often annoying other people [R] He parked himself in front of the TV and stayed there all afternoon. She's parked an enormous pile of papers on my desk and I haven't a clue what to do with them. I am going to park.

  23. eat [T] I ate some bread [T]
  24. eat [I] I ate until I felt full.
  25. sleep [I] I slept ON a bench. I slept well. [I]
  26. Sleep [?] I slept the night with my friend.
  27. Sleep [T] If a vehicle, tent, etc. sleeps a particular number of people, it provides enough space or beds for that number of people to be able to sleep in it
    This caravan sleeps four (people) comfortably.
  28. Shut [T] please shut the gate. I've got a surprise for you! Shut your eyes tightly and hold out your hand. Mary shut her book and put it down on the table.
  29. Shut [??] Shut off the water tap. to (cause to) close something.
  30. Explain [I or T] form=explain something (Direct OBJ) TO Somebody. I'll be happy to explain (that). The teacher explained the rules to the children. Our guide explained where the cathedral was. (where the cathedral was = fact = noun = object) He explained how the machine worked. (information=noun=direct object) please could you explain why you're so late? She explained that she was going to stay with her sister. "Someone must have hit the wrong button," an official explained. Molly asked the teacher if she could explain herself a bit more clearly (= say more clearly what she meant). No one has been able to explain (= give the reason for) the accident.
  31. Explain [I]
  32. Wake [I] I woke (up) with a headache.
  33. Wake [I] Wake me at six.
  34. Fall [I] I fell over my dog. I fell ON the bed. I fell through the ceiling. I fell out of the car. ...
Practice Click for a new verb, then make sentences to show whether the verb can be transitive, intransitive or both. Show your sentence to the other students in the class. Is your sentence correct?
Use the 'It/me' test. Try the words 'it' and 'me' directly following the verb. eg: 'Bake it' = Transitive form
"Wait it" Image = Intransitive (Wait FOR it)

7 Exercise

Now put the following verbs with their usual prepositions. in, for, with, from, on, to. Make a sentence collocating the verb with the preposition and an appropriate noun or adverb. Choose six of the verb and preposition combinations above that you are less confident about using correctly. Make one sentence for each to demonstrate you understand their meaning.
Try and make the sentences true about yourself where possible.
EXAMPLE: I hope to specialise in veterinary science after I leave school.

When you finish the exercise. Click each verb to see some examples to check you answers.
  1. refer _______
  2. congratulate _______
  3. pay _______
  4. apologise _______
  5. plead _______
  6. benefit _______
  7. coincide _______
  8. refrain _______
  9. result _______
  10. concentrate _______
  11. suffer _______
  12. specialise _______
  13. insist _______
  14. confide _______
  15. confess _______
  16. react _______
  17. apply _______
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