Learn English Grammar

Learn English Grammar

The first thing you need to realise is that “most verbs in English are neither strictly transitive nor intransitive.” Joseph M. Williams Origins of the English Language (1986)

Most English verbs can be both. They are like ninjas.

So, what is the difference?

If you are only bothered about the person or thing that carried out the action and the action itself, use a verb that is, or can be, intransitive.

-- subject / verb -- SV

For example:

My friend reads.

Lynne drinks.

The food smells.

If you are interested in the action, and what or who it happened to, you need a verb that is, or can be transitive. Transitive verbs involve not only the subject, but also someone or something else, the object:-

-- subject / verb / object -- SVO

For example:

My friend reads comics.

Lynne drinks tea.

Did you spot that? Drink and read can be transitive and intransitive.

So, does it matter? Yes, it does.

Sometimes you use a transitive verb to simply give more information:-

My friend reads a lot: makes your friend sound super intelligent.

My friend reads a lot of comics: makes your friend sound fun.

However, your choice of how you use a verb can also affect the whole meaning of a sentence.

Let's take the first example, "Lynne drinks", this could sadly be interpreted that she drinks alcohol, and has a bit of a problem, but the extra information that she drinks tea, gives much more information, and makes her sound much healthier.

For the final example, the food smells, you still can't add an object, but you can add a complement:-

The food smells good.

Verbs that can be both transitive and intransitive are often used to talk about some kind of change.

For example "to close". S + V - The door closed. // S + V + O - He closed the door.

A few verbs can only be transitive or intransitive, not both.

Transitive only verbs.

If you use the verb "to bring" something else has to be involved.

For example:

My cat likes to bring me dead mice.

I hope you agree that, "My cat likes to bring," is nonsensical. The first thing your brain should wonder is "What does it bring?".

Intransitive only verbs.

For example:

To appear - "It appeared in the sky."

A way to identify intransitive or transitive use of a verb in a sentence is to try to form a passive sentence. Lots of students seem to think all sentences can be formed into the passive. Well, they can't.

For example: "We got home last night."

Try to form a passive sentence from that, and you'll give yourself a headache.

Like most points of grammar, the best way is to get a "feeling" for what is correct. But I hope this helps a bit.

To recap:-

Transitive verbs (by this I mean verbs used in a transitive way) need an object after them, (they can take direct or indirect objects).

Intransitive verbs (by this I mean verbs used in an intransitive way) do not need an object, but they can be followed by a complement, usually an adjective or adverb.

Written for Kim Long:-

Hi !! dear teacher . Can you help me please ? I always confuse about how to use Transitive and Intransitive Verbs. Can you explain me how to use them. I only know Transitive need object and Intransitive Verbs don't need object . For Transitive ,and Intransitive eual Passive voice and Active voice or not. I don't clear .Please show me. I would like you to help me thanks .