Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs


Verbs are a significant constituent in a sentence. A sentence is incomplete without verbs. This is fair because they put held-up subjects in a motion and help in the subject’s classification. Based on the objects they take, verbs can either be transitive or intransitive (Tsujimura, 2007).

Transitive verbs

Transitive verbs are action verbs that convey a doable activity and have a direct object accompanying them. An example of a transitive verb accompanied by direct objects is the following: Kelly wants a smile from Tamara. In this case, a smile receives the action from wants; hence, wants is a transitive verb. Another example of a transitive verb is: Janelle wrote a beautiful song. Wrote is a transitive verb whereas song is a direct object. A direct object refers to what the action from the subject necessitates and what a noun phrase plus a main noun has. Consequently, transitive verbs are accompanied implicitly by a direct object in the active voices. Transitive verbs join the action carried out by the subject with the object that receives the action. However, they can somewhat be used in the passive voices whenever the direct object of the corresponding active voices sentences turns to be the subject (Hopper & Thomson, 2002).

Intransitive Verbs

Intransitive verbs differ from transitive verbs because they take a direct action, which receives actions from the action verbs. However, an intransitive verb expresses a doable activity from the action verb like the transitive verbs. Examples of intransitive verbs are; run, cry, laugh, and sneeze among others. The examples in sentences are the following: I cried, Jared sneezed, and I laughed. In the above-given examples, the subject acts without the recipient of the action. Nevertheless, some action verbs may be transitive or intransitive based on what follows the action verb in both cases. For instance, Kate always eats before attending classes. Eats stands for the intransitive verb. The other example is: Kate usually eats fish. In this case, Eats stands for transitive verb, and Fish stands for a direct object (Jackendoff, 2002).

Tree diagram demonstrating intransitive verbs

Tree diagrams demonstrate a clear difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. I will begin with intransitive verbs, and use the example below (Grammar astounds). In this sentence, the root node on the tree diagram is marked as subject (S). S is the subject, which is divided into a noun phrase and a verb phrase. These are labeled as NP and VP respectively. Noun phrase branches into the noun (grammar), and is labeled as N. On the other branch, which is on the right, the verb phrase subdivides to a verb, which is astounding (Tsujimura, 2007).

Grammar astounds
Grammar astounds

Tree diagram demonstrating transitive verbs

To show transitive verbs in a tree diagram, I will use the sentence: grammar astounds me. The sentence, Grammar astounds me, is a transitive verb, which has a root node labeled (S) that branches to (NP) and (VP). Noun phrase subdivides further to Noun same as in intransitive verb example. However, the VP subdivides further to verb (V) and Noun phrase (NP), which in this case is the pronoun (me). The noun phrases are two showing a noun and a direct object (me). The direct object has a pronoun, which is a single branch from NP (Seppo, 2007).

Transitive verbs
Transitive verbs

Both transitive and intransitive verbs are significant in sentence construction because they make the English language the way it is now.


Hopper, P. J. & Thomson, S. A. (2002). Transitivity in Grammar and Discourse. Language, 56(2), 251–299.

Jackendoff, R. (2002). Foundations of Language, New York: Oxford University Press.

Seppo, K. (2007). “A typology of ditransitive: alignment types and motivations.” Linguistics (Germany: Walter de Gruyter), 45(3), 453–508.

Tsujimura, N. (2007). The acquisition of verbs and their grammar: the effect of particular languages. Dordrech: Springer.