English Transitive Verbs

English Transitive VerbsTransitive verbs as opposed to intransitive. How to recognize transitives.


Transitive verbs are notional verbs which denote doable activities involving not only action doers but also its objects/addressees. Transitive meaning is incomplete without direct objects.

The teacher gave us…

The teacher gave us a little homework.

Transitive verbs can also have indirect objects before direct (see the example above). The indirect object us is right before the direct object a little homework.

Among transitive verbs there are 3 sub-types:

  • monotransitives (with only direct objects)

He bought a book.

  • ditransitives (with direct and indirect objects)

He gave her the book.

  • complex transitives (with direct objects and object attributes).

She found the book interesting.



Transitive Confusion

Many verbs can be transitive/intransitive depending on their sentence context.

Last night we watched an exciting adventure movie. (transitive)

The verb watched is used transitively taking the noun phrase an exciting adventure movie as a direct object.

The coach proudly watched while his team scored a second goal. (intransitive)

The verb watched is used intransitively without a direct object.

To identify transitive verbs, ask whether the action is done to someone/something. Does the subject act upon someone/sth? Or otherwise, does someone/sth receive verb action? If it does, then the verb is transitive and the person/thing receiving its action is the direct object.

Of all English verbs, lie and lay are likely the most often confused. Lie is an intransitive verb never taking a direct object. Lay is a transitive verb always taking a direct object.

Lay your phones down.

Hidden Transitive

The Passive voice can hide transitive verbs because the subject is not in the sentence. Learning to identify subjects and objects can help avoid passive voice constructions and identify “hidden” transitive verbs.

The man was sentenced to 5 years in jail.

Presumably a judge sentenced the man. So the judge is the subject, sentenced is the verb and the man is the object.

Basic Transitives

act, add, begin, believe, bring, build, burn, change, depend (on), do, dream (about), drink, find, give, have, hear, look (at), love, make, move, open, read, rely (on), see, sell, send, show, take, talk (about/of), touch, turn, wait (for)

bring over/up, call off, find out, give in, make out, move out, set up, turn on, write down

cut down (on), get away (with), look down (on), look up/forward (to), put up (with), stand up (for), stay away (from)