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Transitive Verbs

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  Ed Good  —  Grammar Tips
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Verbs with Objects

As Amber and Igor became grammatically aware, Amber noticed that action verbs came in two models. One described someone (the subject) doing something (the verb) to someone or something (the direct object). Thus:

The spear (subject) snagged (verb) the fish (direct object). John (subject) hit (verb) the ball (direct object).

These short, simple, three-part sentences seem limitless.

Three-Part Sentences with Transitive Verbs

Subject Verb Direct Object
1. Mary 2. wrote 3. the novel.
1. The court 2. decides 3. the case.
1. The doctor 2. removed 3. the tumor
1. The criminal 2. broke 3. the law.
1. The politician 2. will dodge 3. the question.


So way back at the dawn of grammatical time, Amber and Igor noticed that, among all the action verbs they had created, most had the capability of sticking directly to a noun. These action verbs could seemingly pick up a noun all by themselves. Write could pick up book. Hit could pick up ball. Snag could pick up fish.

To name these kinds of action verbs, Amber and Igor first grunted:


For they knew that this most prevalent of the action verbs had the unique ability to pick up a noun and complete the action of the verb: John (the do‑or) hit (the action) the ball (the do‑ee). But because the term noun-picker-upper would never survive in the faculty lounge, our ancient grammarians went back to the drawing board and then grunted:

transitive verb!

Much better.

To be admitted to The Writers’ Club, you must know what a transitive verb is. You must know that it’s an action verb. You must know that it’s an action verb that can pick up a noun all by itself. You must know that you can stick a noun directly on the transitive verb. And you must know the name of that noun: direct object.

Transitive Verbs - Trick Question

Ask This Question

To test an action verb to see if it has a transitive definition, you can ask yourself this question about the verb:

Can I [verb] somebody or can I [verb] something?

Just plug in the verb and ask the question. If the answer is yes, then the verb has a transitive definition. Your mind works like this:

Hmmmm, write, can I write something? Yes, I can write a book. Write, therefore, is transitive.

Hmmmm, debug, can I debug something? Yes, I can debug the computer. Debug, therefore, is transitive.

Hmmmm, proceed, can I proceed something? Nope. I can’t proceed the investigation. Proceed, therefore, is not transitive.

Why is it important to know what transitive verbs are?

Two reasons.

First, when we study the active and passive voices, you’ll learn that only transitive verbs can appear in the passive voice. Second, if you go around grunting noun-picker-upper all the time, you’ll never make it in the faculty lounge.

Your understanding of transitive verbs will grow when you fully comprehend its opposite, the intransitive verb.

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.


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Next: Intransitive Verbs

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