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In English a verb is either transitive or intransitive. A transitive verb has an object, whereas an intransitive verb does not have an object. Most verbs fall into one category or the other, but there are certain verbs that can be either transitive or intransitive depending on the context of the sentence. Let’s look at some transitive verbs first.
“I eat apples every day.” This sentence contains the transitive verb “eat”. We have the subject “I” and “apples” are our object. Consider this next one.
“John threw the ball at the wall.” In this sentence, “John” is our subject and “the ball” is our object.
Now let’s look at some intransitive verbs.
“The sun rose early this morning.” As you can see, “the sun” is our subject, but there is no object. So this sentence contains an intransitive verb. Here’s another example.
“The boy fell over.” Again, we have the subject “the boy”, but there is no object. He just fell down.
Now let’s look at a common problem which can sometimes confuse people.
“I walked along the street.” Here we have the subject “I” and we also have “the street”. So you might be thinking that “the street” is our object. This is not the case. The street has nothing to do with the action of walking, it is just where the action is taking place. I am not doing anything to the street. So this use of “walk” is intransitive.
However if I said that “I was walking the dog along the street” I now have an object, “the dog” that I am taking for a walk and now “walk” becomes transitive because I am doing the action with the dog. So as you can see some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on the context of the sentence. Let’s try another one.
“I closed the door.”
“The door closed.”
Now, the first sentence contains “close” as a transitive verb. The subject “I” closes the object “the door”. However in the second sentence “the door” is the subject and it just closed, maybe because it is a door that swings closed.
There are also some verbs that are always transitive but we do not always state the object. For example –
“I ate quickly this morning.”
We have the verb “eat” but there is no object in the sentence. But it is not possible to eat nothing. I have to eat something, so there must have been an object that I was eating quickly. So, a verb such as “eat” will always be transitive. Another example –
“I drank a lot last night.”
Again, we do not have a stated object, but we also cannot drink nothing. We must have drunk something last night. So as you can see, there are certain verbs that are always transitive, but we don’t always say the object.
For more examples, try our exercise questions.
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- The present Continuous
- Remember vs Remind
- Much, Many, Few, Little
- Tail Questions — Part II
- Using ‘Should’ for the Past and Future
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