Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Though they often cause confusion, there is a simple rule that differentiates transitive and intransitive verbs.

The Rule:

Whether they take objects or not.

Subject Exercise:

Transitive / Intransitive Exercise

Also See:

double object verbs
Passive Voice

Transitive Verbs

Subject + Verb + Object

They take a direct object after them and without the object they are incomplete.

Incomplete: I saw. (what did I see?)

Complete: I saw a bird. (a bird is the direct object here and completes the meaning)

Incomplete: I baked. (what did I bake?)

Complete: I baked some cake. (some cake is the direct object here and completes the meaning)

Note: notice that you can understand a verb whether transitive or not by asking the question "what".


We played soccer.

Now that we can ask the question "what did you play?" it is transitive.

Note: some transitive verbs may take more than one object.

My son bought me a watch for my birthday.
They gave me a pay raise.

In the two sentences above the words in bold are indirect objects and the underlined words are direct objects; so, the verbs "buy and give" are transitive.

They awarded a gold medal to the top 10 students.
The young girl brought some flowers to her mother.

In the two sentences above the words in bold are direct objects and the underlined words are indirect objects; so, the verbs "award and bring" are transitive.

See more about double object verbs

Intransitive Verbs

Subject + Verb

They don’t take objects after them.


Sandra cried.

We can’t ask the question "what did she cry?" so it’s intransitive.

The room flooded.
We swam.
The birds flew.
He jumped.

Note: notice that most intransitive verbs describe movement, and are usually followed by a prepositional or adverbial phrase to complete the meaning of the sentence with extra information.


They danced at Sally’s birthday party for hours.
When the fire alarm rang, we all ran out of the building as fast as we could.
The little girl was sitting on the corner.
The Sun rises in the East.
The earthquake happened yesterday at around 3 am.

See more about prepositional and adverbial phrase: Adverbials

Note: only transitive verbs can be turned into passive. Intransitive verbs don’t have passive forms.


The hurricane happened in 1997.
Not The hurricane was happened
The athlete ran so fast that he broke the world record.
Not the athlete was run
The little boy broke the vase.
The vase was broken by the little boy.

See more about Passive Voice

Note: notice that there are some verbs that can be both transitive and intransitive depending on its usage and meaning.


You have spoiled everything again.
Put the meat in the fridge so that it doesn't spoil.

In the first sentence above the verb "spoil" has a meaning of ruining something and has an object so it is transitive; however in the second sentence “it doesn't spoil” means it doesn't go bad and doesn't have an object; so it is intransitive.

List of common intransitive verbs:























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