The word “transitive” sounds pretty complex, but in reality identifying transitive verbs is really not that difficult. Transitive verbs express an action and is followed by a direct object (thing or person that receives the action of the verb).
Let’s first look at a couple of examples of transitive verbs in a sentence:
In each of the examples above the subject performs an action and there is an object that receives the action. Followed by the verb, the direct object answers the question What? or Whom?
Alex sent what? A postcard.
She left what? The keys.
My father took whom? Me.
Transitive verbs, though, can have an indirect object before the direct object (see example #3 above). The indirect object “me” is right before the direct object “a dog.”
What's wrong with the sentences below?
Without the use of a direct object the sentences above make no sense.
So, what are intransitive verbs? These verbs also express an action, but are not followed by a direct object.
Often intransitive verbs are followed by prepositional phrases (or they can be followed by an adverb) and do not take a direct object.
Verbs can often be both transitive and intransitive, depending on how they are used in a sentence.
She usually leaves (transitive) the books on the table.
The train sometimes leaves (intransitive) early on Sunday.
In the first example, the verb leave is transitive because it is followed by a direct object (books). However, in the second, it is intransitive and there is no direct object. It is followed by a prepositional phrase (on Sunday).
So, what’s the fuss all about? Why should we know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs? Well, understanding the different functions of these two verbs can help students avoid mistakes, such as incomplete sentences.