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Transitive and Intransitive

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  Ed Good  —  Grammar Tips
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The trick question we used above to determine whether a verb is transitive will always nail a verb as transitive or intransitive: Can I [verb] somebody or something? If yes, the verb is transitive. If no, the verb is intransitive.

Naturally enough, sometimes the answer to that trick question is yes and no. Many action verbs have both transitive and intransitive meanings. Many of these you know off the top of your head. Others require quick, furtive trips to the dictionary.

In many dictionaries, you’ll find a v.t. or v.i. preceding the definitions of a verb. They mean: “verb transitive” or “verb intransitive.” At, you’ll find this technique: “verb (used with object)” and “verb (used without object).” The first, of course, means “transitive verb,” the second “intransitive verb.”

Let’s look at a few verbs that are always intransitive. Try out the trick question. Notice that the pure intransitive verb has an urge for a preposition, which it needs to form a relationship with a noun. Often the verb has a permanent deal with a particular preposition.

Verbs That Are Always Intransitive

Some verbs are always intransitive. Here are some:

Verb Trick Question Answer Type Preposition Urge
delve* Can I delve something? No Intransitive into
comply Can I comply something? No Intransitive with
proceed Can I proceed something? No Intransitive with, to
agree Can I agree something? No. Intransitive with, to


* The verb delve does have an archaic definition as a transitive verb: to dig, excavate. Random House, p. 529.

Note: Too many people these days take an intransitive verb and use it transitively. I hear way too often, “Let’s agree the agenda.” Keep your ears open, and you’ll hear these kinds of mistakes. But now, you won’t make them.

Now let’s look at some verbs that have both meanings—intransitive and transitive. For example, the intransitive body-motion verb walk needs the preposition to in order to get:

Igor walked to the store (intransitive).

But if Igor takes along his dog, the verb takes on a transitive meaning, and we get:

Igor walkedhis dog to the store (transitive).

Verbs that Are Both Transitive and Intransitive

The verb run is similar. As a verb form, it has 122 definitions. The first 52 are intransitive; the next 70, transitive. Random House, pp. 1681-82. Here are some verbs that have both transitive and intransitive meanings:

Verb Question and   Example Answer Type Preposition Urge
walk Can I walk something? Igor walked to the store. No Intransitive to, toward (others)
walk Can I walk something? Igor walked his dog. Yes Transitive
run Can I run something? Igor ran away from the dog. No Intransitive to, toward (others)
run Can I run something? Igor ran guns across the border. Yes Transitive
provide Can I provide something? Igor provided for his children. Congress has the power “to provide for the common defense.” No Intransitive for
provide Can I provide something? Igor provided food for his children. Yes Transitive


The key test for transitiveness remains the same: Can you stick a noun directly onto the verb? If so, the resulting statement shows a transitive definition of that verb. By the same token, if the verb will not accommodate a noun and yearns for a preposition, then your statement is showing an intransitive definition of the verb.

Got it? Good, for it’s very important that you understand the difference between transitive verbs and intransitive verbs. Why? Because you can’t get into The Writers’ Club unless you do.

Hard Copy

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


Previous: Intransitive Verbs

Next: No-Action Verbs

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1 Comment
  • Sanni Azeez
    Sanni Azeez
    good one as I think my students may like this
    LikeReply 26 years ago
    • STANDS4
      Thanks Sanni, It'd be great if you can spread the word about to your students!
      LikeReply6 years ago


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