Transitive and Intransitive Verbs: Spot the Difference

Got Zombie? by April McGuire
Before you say anything, yes, I know. I’ve been a bad blogger. It’s been nearly two weeks since my last post. But I have a really good excuse. In addition to being swamped with editing work, I was also putting together the first issue of The Ghouls’ Review for my other, other job over at Grammar Ghoul Press. If you have some time, you should check out the magazine. There are some really awesome writers featured in the issue.

Hopefully, you’ll find it in your hearts to forgive me.

In the meantime, I promised to talk about the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. So here we go.

Transitive Verbs

A transitive verb has two key qualities: First, it is an action verb. Second, it must have a direct object. When you use a transitive verb, the direct object receives the verb’s action. (Remember the quick way to determine a direct object? Ask what or whom after the verb.)

  • The zombie dropped Fred’s brain. 

Fred’s brain is the direct object because it’s receiving the action of the verb, dropped. So dropped is a transitive verb.

Intransitive Verbs

An intransitive verb is also an action verb. But—and this is key—intransitive verbs do not require direct objects.

  • The zombie shuffled down the street. 

What happens if we ask our direct object question: the zombie shuffled what or whom? It doesn’t make any sense, does it? That’s because, in this example, down the street is a prepositional phrase, which you can identify by asking where. So there’s no direct object. And that makes shuffled an intransitive verb.

It’s Never that Easy

It never is, is it? In a perfect world, we’d have a list of verbs that are transitive and verbs that are intransitive. But in English, many verbs can be both. (Sorry about that.) This is why it’s so important to know how to identify direct objects. If there’s a direct object, there will be a transitive verb acting on it.

Below are two sentences. Can you tell which is transitive and which is intransitive?

  • After the zombies eat, they will lurch around in a stupor.
  • After the zombies eat your brains, they will lurch around in a stupor.

In the first sentence, eat does not have a direct object, so it’s acting as an intransitive verb. In the second sentence, your brains are the direct object, so eat is acting as a transitive verb. And lurch does not have a direct object in either sentence, making it intransitive in both cases.

And that, in a nutshell, is how you tell the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.

Do you have any grammar or etymology questions you’d like me to answer? If you do, let me know in the comments.


Image credit: AprilMcGuire @ deviantART

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13 thoughts on “Transitive and Intransitive Verbs: Spot the Difference

  1. We know you are a busy person, Suzanne, it is not necessary to apologize. You are doing us a favor, many thanks for the verbs, transitive and intransitive, with examples.

  2. Very nice summary, Suzanne I love coming here and getting examples that use words like lurch. You’re spoiling me for other blogs.

    And many congrats on publishing! That first issue is looking fantastic. 🙂

    1. You’re so sweet, Sue. I love when people appreciate words like lurch as much as I do. 🙂

      And thanks for your comments on the magazine – not to mention your contribution!

  3. Great post. It got me thinking about the term for a verb that can be both transitive and intransitive (ergative), which led me down a path ending in nominative-accusative language!

    1. Thanks Anne! I saw someone use bi-transitive when I was doing my research, but ergative sounds much nicer.

      Isn’t the road to hell paved with nominative-accusative language? 😉

  4. Whoa. I did not realize how necessary your blog was in my life. I will be lurking around here and soaking up the grammar knowledge here!

    P.S. I checked out the Ghouls’ Review and loved the first edition. Looking forward to the Spring 15 one!

    1. You are welcome to lurk as much as you like – I approve of people soaking up as much grammar knowledge as they can. 🙂

      I’m glad you liked the first issue of the magazine. I can’t wait to see what the Spring issue brings!

    1. Hi Jackie! No, I’m no longer at yeah write. I started up my own site, which hosts a creative writing challenge, and produces a quarterly literary journal. You can now find me at Grammar Ghoul Press (www.grammarghoulpress.com). I’d love to see some of your poetry there! 🙂

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