Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Verbs can be divided into the following three categories:

  • Transitive Verbs
  • Intransitive Verbs
  • Auxiliary Verbs / Modal Verbs

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive Verbs

“A Verb is Transitive if the action does not stop with the agent, but passes from the agent to something else.” (J. C. Nesfield)

  • I read a book.

In this sentence the sense is not complete with ‘I read’ only, until it is known what I read. The sense is complete only when we say “I read a book”.

The action, thus, passes on to the book. In this way the Person or Thing with which the action of the verb ends is called its Object. A Transitive Verb must have its Object.

Intransitive Verbs

“A Verb is Intransitive when the action stops with the agent, and does not pass from the agent to anything else.” (Nesfield)

  • I sleep.

The sense of this sentence is complete. Its action does not pass on to any other thing. Therefore it needs no object. An Intransitive Verb has no object.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Regarding Transitive and Intransitive verbs it is necessary to remember that most verbs are neither Transitive nor Intransitive in themselves. This distinction depends upon their use.

A Transitive verb can be used as an Intransitive verb, and an Intransitive verb can be used as a Transitive verb. Therefore Wren and Martin observe :

“Most Verbs can be used both as Transitive and as Intransitive Verbs. It is, therefore, better to say that a Verb is used Transitively or Intransitively rather than that it is Transitive or Intransitive.”

Rule 1. Transitive and Intransitive Use of Verb

As we have said above, most verbs can be used both as Transitive and Intransitive verbs. As:

  • He speaks the truth. (Transitive Use)
  • He speaks softly. (Intransitive Use)
  • I feel a severe pain in my backbone. (Transitive Use)
  • How does he feel now ? (Intransitive Use)
  • He can drive any car. (Transitive Use)
  • He drives very cautiously. (Intransitive Use)
  • Please ring the bell. (Transitive Use)
  • The bell rings. (Intransitive Use)
  • He stopped the bus. (Transitive Use)
  • The bus stopped. (Intransitive Use)
  • They fought the enemy back. (Transitive Use)
  • They fought bravely. (Intransitive Use)
  • I read a book. (Transitive Use)
  • I read slowly. (Intransitive Use)
  • They drink country liquor. (Transitive Use)
  • They never drink. (Intransitive Use)
  • Change your clothes. (Transitive Use)
  • They will never change. (Intransitive Use)
  • He invited you. (Transitive Use)
  • I was not invited. (Intransitive Use)

Rule 2. Intransitive Verbs used as Transitive Verbs

(i) When an Intransitive Verb is used in the Causal / Causative sense ( in getting or causing an action done), it becomes a Transitive verb. As :

  • A bird flies. (Transitive)
  • He flies a kite. (i.e. causes a kite to fly.) (Intransitive)
  • He drives very cautiously. (Transitive)
  • He drives the cattle away from the field. (i.e. causes the cattle to run away.) (Intransitive)
  • The sportsmen marched in a line. (Transitive)
  • The captain marched the sportsmen in a line. (i.e. caused them to march in a line.) (Intransitive)
  • The boat floated. (Transitive)
  • I floated the boat. (i.e. caused the boat to float.) (Intransitive)

(ii) Some Intransitive Verbs become Transitive with the addition of a Preposition with them. In that case the Preposition becomes a part of the verb and cannot be separated from it. As :

  • I have carefully gone through (i.e. read) your representation.
  • Please look into (i.e. investigate) the matter carefully.
  • He runs after (i.e. pursues) money at all costs.
  • All his friends laughed at (i.e derided) him.
  • I ask for (i.e. request) your kind favour.
  • There is none to look after (i.e. take care of) him.

Note: Sometimes an Intransitive verb becomes Transitive with the addition of a Preposition before it. As :

  • He will overcome all his difficulties.
  • The river is overflowing its banks.
  • He is bold enough to withstand the attack.

Rule 3. Transitive Verbs used Intransitively

Some Transitive Verbs can be used as Intransitive verbs under the following conditions:

(i) When a verb is used in such a wide sense that the need of using its object is not felt. As:

  • Men eat to keep alive.
  • On the battlefield soldiers have to kill.

(ii) When the Reflexive Pronoun of the verb is kept concealed. As:

  • He turned (himself) to the door and bolted it.
  • Please keep (yourself) quiet.
  • He drew (himself) near her.
  • The bubble burst (itself).

(iii) Some Transitive Verbs can be used as Intransitive verbs also. As:

  • He broke the glass. (Transitive)
  • The glass broke. (Intransitive)
  • He closes the shop at 8 p.m. (Transitive)
  • The market closes at 8 p.m. (Intransitive)
  • He burns the dry leaves. (Transitive)
  • Dry leaves burn. (Intransitive)
  • He opens the office at 10 a.m.
  • The office opens at 10 a.m. (Intransitive)

Auxiliary / Modal Verbs

Auxiliary or Modal Verbs are also called Helping Verbs because they help the Principal verb.

“An Auxiliary Verb is one which (a) helps to form a tense or mood of some Principal Verb, and (b) forgoes its own significance as a Principal

Verb for that purpose.” (Nesfield) As:

  • He has gone.

In this sentence has is auxiliary verb and gone Principal Verb. Here has has helped the Principal Verb in making its Present Perfect Tense, and in so doing it has lost its own identity as a Principal verb.

Number of Auxiliary / Modal Verbs

Auxiliary or Modal Verbs are 27 in number.They are : is, was, were, am, are, will, would, shall, should, do, does, did, can, could, may, might, must, ought, has, have, had, need, dare, used, be, been, being.

These verbs (excluding be, been, being) are also called Anomalous Verbs.

Functions of Auxiliary / Modal Verbs

As we have said above, there are in all 27 Auxiliary / Modal verbs. They have the following 6 functions :

  1. To form different tense forms.
  2. To make interrogative sentences.
  3. To form question-tags and short answers
  4. They are also used to show agreement or disagreement with a certain statement.
  5. Certain ideas are also expressed by using them.
  6. Negative verbs are also formed with their help.

Thanks for reading about “transitive verbs and intransitive verbs”.

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