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Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
This exercise was written by Erin Billy.

The Difference Between Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

My sister broke the window.

My father cried.

Can you figure out the difference between the verbs (broke, cried) in the above sentences? I'm not talking about the meaning, I'm talking about the grammar. In other words, how are these two verbs grammatically different?

We should notice that the first verb, broke, has another word after it. The second verb, cried, does not have another word after it. Generally speaking, we can say that all verbs in English can be divided into two groups--those that must have a word (or words) after them and words that do not have to have any word after them.

This rule is simplified right now, but we will learn more later. For now, let's just focus on the simple ideas.

Let's look at the two different kinds of verbs.

Transitive Verbs

My sister broke the window.

In the first sentence, the word that comes after the verb, window, is the object of the verb. We say that window is the object because it receives the action of the verb. All objects of verbs receive the action of the verb.

Here are some more examples of transitive verbs with their objects:

  • I sold some books.
  • I took the bus.
  • I bought a radio.
  • I understood her question.
  • I wrote a letter.

When a verb has an object that receives the action of the verb, we say that the verb is transitive. Transitive verbs are more common on the TOEFL than intransitive verbs, but many students get confused about intransitive verbs.

Let's look at the other kind of verb now.

Intransitive Verbs

My father cried.

We can see in this sentence that there is no word after cried. In other words, there is no object for the word, so there is no noun to receive the action of the word. Think about it--what could we say? My father cried something. Is there a noun that we could use after cried? We could probably think of one or two nouns, like tears, or even, good-bye, but normally, we do not use the verb cry with an object.

In this case we say that this verb is intransitive because it does not have an object after it.

Here are some more examples of intransitive verbs:

  • I slept.
  • I coughed.
  • The glass fell.
  • My cat ran.
  • The sun rose.

We should notice that in each case, the subject is doing the action of the verb and nothing receives the action.

Common Test Prep Points

It is extremely important to be able to understand whether a verb is transitive or intransitive.

For many verbs in class, if your teacher thinks that the verb is hard to understand, we will ask something like this:

T: Do we cry or do we cry something?

Then, the student should respond something like this:

S: Just cry.

In this case, we would say that cry is intransitive.


One reason that understanding this point is so important is that it is very easy to become confused about whether a verb is transitive or intransitive. Consider the following example:

I went to the store yesterday.

Is went transitive or intransitive?

Many people, including native speakers, will tell you that went is transitive since we have many words after went. However:

To say that went is transitive would be a BIG mistake!!

So, what are all those other words after went? Well, first of all, to the store is a prepositional phrase. Second, yesterday is an adverb.

One more thing: just to make life easier, instead of saying transitive and intransitive all the time, we will say vi (since that's what most dictionaries say) if the verb is intransitive and vt (again, since that's what most dictionaries say) if the verb is transitive.

Trust TestMagic: This is extremely important!! We will do some exercises on this point a little bit later.

Summary of Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

There are some important exceptions to these rules and we will talk about them later. However, for now, we have enough information to do some practice.

Practice Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

This exercise is relatively simple--just decide whether the verb is transitive or intransitive. In this case, write the answer choice that is more common. Finally, you will notice that several words have been repeated. This is because I want you to remember these words since they are the most common on the TOEFL and they cause the most problems for students.


vi or vt
1.   run
2.   live
3.   throw
4.   sell
5.   eat
6.   result
7.   evolve
8.   research
9.   happen
10.   feed
11.   exist
12.   result
13.   follow
14.   make
15.   take place
16.   occur
17.   exist
18.   happen
19.   dwell
20.   evolve
21.   result
22.   send
23.   invent
24.   fly
25.   find


I want to do the next exercise.

I want to skip the next exercise and do some practice.

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