Verb Types: Transitive & Intransitive Verbs*

Verb Types: Transitive & Intransitive Verb

April 4, 2019

Native English Instructor

Written by Douglas Shaw

Transitive verbs are action verbs that always express doable activities that relate or affect someone or something else:

While there is any number of action verbs (e.g. run or jump),sometimes the action is merely emotional or intellectual (e.g. believe or think). Other times, verbs indicate no action at all (e.g. be or seem), but instead serve to link the subject with it’s state-of-being. To delineate between action that is received by an object and action that is not received by an object, action verbs are divided into two different categories. Transitive and Intransitive.

Transitive Verb

A transitive verb is a lexical verb (Main) verb that has a direct object. A transitive verb has two (2) functions.

  1. It is responsible for giving the action specifically and directly to the object (e.g. “She mailed the package.”) – this sentence is comprised of the transitive verb (mailed), which offers direct empowerment to the object (package).
  2. Can also indicate action through an indirect object. The indirect object is indicative of intention (e.g. “She mailed Martha the package.”) – this sentence is indicative of empowering the objective to take action while also clarifying for whom the package was intended.

Note: Some transitive verbs have both a direct object and an indirect object.

Depending on what follows the verb in the sentence, transitive verbs fall into three different classes.

Monotransitive: Only have one object (a direct object) e.g. I know the answer.

Ditransitive: Have two objects, a direct object and an indirect object. e.g. I told him the answer. (“him” – being the indirect object and “the answer” – being the direct object).

Complex transitive: Have a direct object and a complement – a word or phrase that says something about the direct object. e.g. “They’ve painted their house purple. (“their house” – being the direct object and “purple” – the complement).

Note: Remember that a complement that follows a linking verb says something about the subject of the verb.


  1. Transitive verbs give motion to the object.
  2. Transitive verbs are used for sentences that describe the object’s action.

Intransitive Verb

  • A lexical verb is the main verb of the sentence. The lexical verb shows the main action the subject is engaged in.
  • A lexical verb does not require an auxiliary  verb but an auxiliary verb exists only to help a lexical verb. It cannot exist alone.

Speakers and Writers alike would be wise to recognize that the verb is the force behind the sentence and therefore, will improve their speaking and writing ability by being able to recognize what the verb is and how it is being used.

The first step in  that process is understanding the structure or parts of a verb. Verbs in the simple present or past have only a lexical (main) verb (e.g.”The woman ran the marathon.”)

Sentences in other tenses have more complicated verb structures. In these, we use the auxiliary (helping) verbs (e.g. is, was,were) along with the lexical verbs which make up the complete verb.

(e.g. “John was organizing the awards dinner for all the winners.”) – “was” being the auxiliary verb and “organizing” being the lexical (main) verb.

Lexical and Auxiliary verb use


Robin Hood rested in the shadows of a canyon oak tree.

  • Robin Hood’s action, which occurred in the past (“rested”) – is the lexical verb and has no need of an auxiliary verb.


David should give his jacket to someone who will wear it.

  • David’s action, which is conditional (“give”) – is the lexical verb and (“should”) – is the auxiliary verb.


The teacher has been teaching the same material every month for three years.

  • The teacher’s action, which has continued to occur over time (“teaching”) – is the lexical verb and (“has been”) – is the auxiliary verb.