Transitive or Intransitive?
This exercise was written by Erin
My sister broke
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--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 have a word (or words)
after them and words that do not 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, though.
Let's look at the two different kinds of verbs.
My sister broke
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
- 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.
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--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.
What You Need to Know for TestMagic
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
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?
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.
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.
This exercise is relatively simple--just decide whether the
verb is transitive or intransitive.