Understanding Transitive Verbs
Verbs may be transitive, intransitive, or linking (copular), depending on the type of object they require.
Transitive verbs are action verbs Opens in new window that require direct objects to function.
Transitive verbs have two characteristics:
- Firstly, a transitive verb is an action verb Opens in new window that expresses a doable activity such as, eat, sit, run, jump, write, etc.
- Secondly, it takes a direct object Opens in new window, someone or something who receives the action of the verb.
So, a Transitive Verb is one which expresses action that is directed toward someone or something. That someone or something, which may be either a nounOpens in new window or pronounOpens in new window is called the direct objectOpens in new window.
- The cat caught a mouse.
In this sentence, the verb caught, which expresses an action, is a transitive verb; and a mouse, which represents what the action is directed is the direct object.
A Transitive Verb may also be followed by a word that shows to whom or to what the action is done. This word is known as an indirect objectOpens in new window.For Example:
- Delle passes John the ball.
Here also, the verb passes, which expresses an action, is a transitive verb; but this time, the noun John, which represents whom the action is done is the indirect object.
Note that a transitive verb cannot take an indirect object on its own. Therefore as long as an indirect object exists in the sentence, so also must exists a direct object.
Thus, in the sentence above, the direct object is the ball. So in English language, a transitive verb is almost always followed by a noun phraseOpens in new window.
Some English transitive verbs include see, run, hit, give, make, play, include, postpone, hear, believe, implement, put off, keep, etc., among other verbs that express a doable activity.
Difference Between Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
Only transitive verbs can take direct objects
Based on this fact, a direct object will only follow a transitive verb.
Intransitive verbs do not take objects, so they will never have direct objects.
More specifically, the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs is generally restricted to verbs.
Transitive verbs are different from the verb be and other copular (linking) verbs Opens in new window. Although be and copular verbs may also have a noun phrase placed after them, as:
- Gretchen is an intelligent student, or
- It seems a pity
These sorts of noun phrases are not considered to be the direct objects, but rather the complementsOpens in new window of such verbs.
There are times the direct objects of transitive verbs may be dropped, as:
- Can you see? or
- They can’t hear or
- I know.
In such cases, it is often possible to interpret an understood object from the context, so the sentences just mentioned might be understood as, for example,
- Can you see it? or
- They can’t hear you or
- I know what you have in mind.
In this way we can clearly differentiate transitive verbs from the intransitive counterparts, where it is not possible to fill in any understood object.
Kinds of Transitive Verb
Transitive verb comes in two kinds: monotransitive and ditransitive. As the names imply, the difference between these two, involves the number of objects the verbs take.
A ditransitive verb can take two objects, a direct and an indirect object, as:
- John passes him the ball or
- Bryan brought Margaret a spaghetti for lunch or
- Sucre arranged Toby a surprised birthday party.
Mostly in these sorts of sentences in English, the indirect object can be dropped and left to the interlocutor to be understood, as:
- John passes the ball or
- Bryan brought a spaghetti for lunch or
- Sucre arranged a surprised birthday party.
The monotransitive verb can only take a single object, a direct object to be precise, as:
- The Tigress defeated Lakeshire Falcons or
- Martha decorated the room.
The direct object held to certain transitive verbs can be another clause embedded in the larger one housing the verb.
Examples of such transitive verbs include know, say, explain, report, and hear, as in:
- Martha knew it was dangerous and
- Asha heard that Yeltsin had dissolved parliament.
In some European languages, including English, only transitive verbs are used in passive clausesOpens in new window. In English, passive clauses is meant putting what would normally (in an active clause) be the direct object of the verb in the subject position, and using the past participle of the verb, as in:
- The Lakeshire Falcons were defeated (by the Tigress)
- The room was decorated (by Martha)
A number of verbs in English, some of which are transitive, consist of two words, of which the second can often also be used as a prepositionOpens in new window. Examples include take out, fence off, pick up, and push over.
These transitive verbs can be split, or interrupted by their direct objects, as in:
- Joel picked his backpack up.
- The cats have pushed the bookends over.
Verbs of these sorts are called phrasal verbsOpens in new window and are slightly different from another kind of two-word verbs, such as look for, look at, listen to and consist of.
These cases can be analysed either as two-word transitive verbs or as one-word intransitive verbs which consist on being followed by certain kinds of prepositional phraseOpens in new window.
However, the difference between these verbs and the phrasal verbs is that the preposition-like word (e.g. up, over, to, of ) cannot be separated from its verb. So, one cannot say, for example,
- *Asha was listening the radio to or *The lesson today consists three parts of.
Transitive verbs are bound to occur in all the usual different forms of verbs, including finiteOpens in new window forms (those with markers of tenseOpens in new window and agreementOpens in new window) and non-finite forms (such as participlesOpens in new window, infinitivesOpens in new window and gerundsOpens in new window).
In English because of the ways in which interrogative sentencesOpens in new window and relative clauses are constructed, transitive verbs in these constructions can sometimes appear without a following noun phrase.Examples include:
- What are you reading?
- Who did you see?
- That is the book that I am reading.
- That is the person I saw.
In these constructions, the verbs read and see are still transitive, because the constructions are formed by regular processes which move or omit whole noun phrases from the normal positions in clauses.