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Intransitive Verbs

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  Ed Good  —  Grammar Tips
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Verbs Without Objects

Our forbears noticed something else about their growing list of action verbs. Some lacked the ability to pick up a noun all by themselves. They could not earn that coveted label, noun-picker-upper. Thus, when they saw Amber moving rapidly across a field, they grunted run. And when they tried to connect the action verb run with the noun field, they just couldn’t do it. All the grunting in the world just wouldn’t make it work:

Amber runs field. Amber field runs. Field Amber runs.

They noticed that a group of action verbs needed a go-between in forming a relationship with a noun. So they turned to the little glue word, the preposition, and discovered how to complete their thoughts. These three-part sentences would consist of the subject, the verb, and a word or phrase ordinarily showing where, when, how, or why the action took place:

Three-Part Sentences with Intransitive Action Verbs

Subject Verb Phrase or Adverb
1. Amber 2. runs 3. across the field.
1. Amber 2. ran 3. next to the field.
1. Amber 2. will run 3. around the field.
1. Amber 2. runs 3. fast.


When they tried out a few grunts to name this kind of action verb, they stopped short of no-noun-picker-upper and can’t-pick-up-no-noun and decided on:

intransitive verbs

As they contemplated these intransitive verbs, they realized that many of them comprised the verbs describing the movement or location of a person or thing. Since the movement of a body constitutes action having to do with that body, then in the nature of things there is no third object to receive any of that action. That third object—if it could exist—would be a direct object. It would be a noun picked up by the verb.

Thus, the reason intransitive verbs cannot pick up another noun lies in the meaning of the verb itself. The verb often is describing a movement or location of the grammatical subject. A direct object just can’t enter the picture.

Thus, each of the body-motion or body-location verbs has an intransitive definition:

Amber runs across the field. Amber walked through the words. Amber skips along the creek. Amber moseyed up to the bar. Amber will stand still. Amber froze. Amber stopped.

The basic structure of our language provides the big tip-off to help us determine whether an action verb is transitive or intransitive: The transitive verb needs no preposition to attach to a noun, whereas the intransitive verb must have a preposition to attach to a noun.

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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