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Every sentence needs a verb. In this lesson, you’ll learn about two types of action verbs: transitive and intransitive.

You’ll find out how to recognize them in sentences and tell the difference between the two.

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Verbs: Building Blocks

If you want to improve your writing, it helps to be familiar with the building blocks of sentences: subjects, verbs, objects, and modifiers. Every sentence needs a verb, of which there are several types: action verbs, which, as the name states, indicates a physical or mental action; and verbs of being, which are forms of the verb ‘to be.’ Examples of verbs of being include ‘am,’ ‘is’ and ‘are,’ to name a few.

Finally, there are also linking verbs and helping verbs.In this video, we’re only going to be discussing action verbs, or verbs that tell what the subject of the sentence does. Only an action verb can be transitive or intransitive. If the verb in a sentence is any other type, it cannot be transitive or intransitive.

Transitive Verbs

A transitive verb is an action verb that has a direct object. A direct object is a word that receives the action of the verb.

Take a look at these examples:Louisa threw the ball. Louisa dropped her hat.

Sentences with transitive verbs.

transitive verbs


  • In the first sentence, the transitive verb is ”threw.” The direct object or word that receives the action is ”ball.”
  • In the second sentence, the transitive verb is ”dropped.” The direct object is ”hat.”

The ” Whom?” or ”What?” Test

Another way to find out if a verb has a direct object is to identify the action verb, then ask: ”Whom?” or ”What?” If there is an answer to the question ” whom” or ”what,” the action verb has a direct object and is transitive.

Action Verb + whom or what = Direct Object = Transitive VerbIn our examples:

  • The action verb in the first sentence: threw. Luisa threw whom or what? She threw the ball.
  • The action verb in the second sentence: dropped.

    Luisa dropped whom or what? She dropped her hat.

Intransitive Verbs

An intransitive verb is an action verb without a direct object. Here are some examples:Marcel sang.

Marcel laughed.

Sentences with intransitive verbs.
intransitive verbs


  • In the first sentence, the action verb is ”sang”.

    Marcel sang what? There is no answer. The verb has no direct object, so the verb is intransitive.

  • In the second sentence, the action verb is ”laughed”. Marcel laughed at whom or what? There is no direct object, so again, the verb is intransitive.

Modifiers

When we are checking to see if an action verb is transitive or not, be aware that there may be modifiers, which describing words or phrases, to the verb. Modifiers are not direct objects. Here’s an example.

  • Mandy walked down the street.

In this sentence, the action verb is ”walked”.

Mandy walked whom or what? There is no answer. The phrase down the street describes where Mandy walked, so ”walked” is an intransitive verb.Here’s another example:

  • Mandy sighed sadly.

The action verb here is ”sighed”. Sighed whom or what? There is no direct object. The word sadly describes how Mandy sighed, making ”sighed” an intransitive verb.

Special Cases

1) Some verbs that can be transitive or intransitive, depending on the way they are used in a specific sentence.

For example:

  • Harper ate as fast as he could.

In this sentence, the action verb is ”ate,” and it has no object, so the verb is intransitive. Let’s look at another sentence.

  • Harper ate strawberries.

Here, the action verb ”ate” has an object – strawberries. The verb is transitive.2) A transitive verb can also have more than one object.

For instance:

  • Nina wore a scarf and gloves.

The action verb is ”wore.” The objects are ”scarf” and ”gloves.”

  • Nina lost her book and her pencil.

The action verb is ”lost.

” The objects are ”book” and ”pencil.”

Lesson Summary

Action verbs are either transitive or intransitive. A transitive verb has a direct object that receives the action of the verb. An intransitive verb does not have a direct object. When trying to determine if an action verb is transitive or intransitive, look for any modifiers, which describe words or phrases, to the verb and remember that modifiers are not direct objects.

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