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Transitive, Intransitive, and Linking Verbs :: An Introduction

What are Transitive Verbs, Intransitive Verbs, and Linking Verbs?

Part 5: Exceptions

This exercise was written by Erin Billy.

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So far we've discussed the verbs in question as if they were always transitive or intransitive, but that's really not the case. English, like all natural human languages, is full of quirks and what some may call illogicalities, and in English, it's quite common for a verb to be transitive in one sentence and intransitive in another.

But please remember that there's (usually) a reason! Let's look at some examples:

The dog smells. (this means that the dog stinks, or has a bad odor)

The dog smelled the food. (this means that the dog did the action of smelling to the food)

The dog smells nice. (this means that the dog has a nice smell)

In the first sentence, the verb smell has an intransitive meaning -- to give off a bad odor. So, one of the meanings of smell -- to give off a bad odor -- is used in this sentence. Notice that this meaning of smell is intransitive -- the dog is doing an action (giving off a bad smell), but there's no noun to receive the action.

The second sentence is using another meaning of smell, the transitive meaning. Notice that with this meaning, the action of smell has an object, food. I.e., food is receiving the action, and the dog is doing the action.

Finally, in the third sentence, smell is performing the function of linking dog and nice. In other words, nice modifies or describes the dog.


There are a few more things that I'd like to say, but I'll have to save them for an upcoming article.

If you have any questions or comments about this lesson or the grammar points explained here, please post them here.

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